Wood is one of the most solemn materials that exist in any good-looking kitchen. Without a doubt, a good wooden board makes delight of the dining room more gourmet that is precious But be careful, because wood is not only used to freak out and luxuriously present portions of cured cheese in a beautiful gastronomic setting. The mythical wooden spoons that your grandmother used to cook and that she kept for years like gold in cloth also have a lot of history to tell us.
However —and much to my regret— today I come to destroy your family memories. Wood is quite a controversial material for food safety professionals. In fact, both the industry and the hotel industry tend to avoid it because it causes more problems than joy. Far from being legally prohibited as many believe, this matter is dispensed with due to its ease of harboring pathogenic microorganisms. Microbial caution, dining friend.
Wood is a porous material
If there’s one problematic characteristic of culinary woods, it’s their porosity. Timber it has small holes through which both food juices and dirt penetrate vigorously. This makes wood a very difficult material to clean, so it’s not always enough to scrub it like there’s no tomorrow with the scouring pad.
Added to this is the fact that kitchen utensils made of wood are completely prohibited in the dishwasher. This appliance offers greater guarantees than a classic hand scrubber in terms of cleaning, but not suitable for wood because this material retains a lot of moisturegiving shelter to microorganisms of all kinds that will find a perfect hiding place in its cracks to reproduce like rabbits in heat.
From the point of view of food safety there is no possible discussion: wood is a bad ally. Although there are certain scientific studies that point to some benefits of wood as an antimicrobial effect —especially in food packaging, which is not the same as a cutting board. The truth is that its evidence is still in its infancy and it is impractical to translate it into a realistic message for the population.
The reason is that not all woods are the same, and that their treatment and care in the domestic environment is extremely complex. In summary: having wooden boards and utensils is a mess and there is not enough evidence to justify their use today beyond aesthetic motivations. Most importantly, they can be microbiologically problematic.
What is the best material then?
Unfortunately there is no perfect material in the kitchen, and this should be clear. Each and every choice we make has pros and cons. Either because of its weight, economic value, versatility, ease of cracking or simply because of its worse washing. Neither stainless steel, nor glass, nor marble, nor silicone, nor plastic and, much less wood, are perfect materials.
For confectionery and preparations where there is no heat involved, silicone is a good choice. On the other hand, stainless steel is usually the star option that poses fewer problems in terms of hygiene: it is easy to clean, inert, and does not facilitate the growth of pathogenic microbes as wood does. However, it is true that in some cases it can scratch pans and other objects. As always, the important thing will be to choose good utensils that do not scratch easily and whose quality ensures a long duration. Later, it will be time to retire them and buy new ones. The spatula cannot last forever.
On the other hand, some resistant plastics such as polypropylene They can be a great option if we want to have a safe and versatile material at home. In addition, it is possible to use different color tables depending on the food we are cutting: red for meat, blue for fish and green for vegetables, for example. In this way we will avoid the fearsome cross contamination.
Be careful with cross contamination
Beyond the type of material chosen, the truth is that there is a risky practice from the microbiological point of view that many mortals practice at home without noticing it. The so-called “cross contamination” takes place when they come into contact raw foods as they may contain pathogens naturally —such as meat or fish, especially chicken— with other fresh foods that are not going to receive heat treatments or that have already been cooked. For this reason it is very important to separate the tables according to each use, and that is where resistant plastics such as propylene make life much easier for us.
Many consumers are concerned about the migration of toxic components that some plastics have to food. Such is the case of the well-known microplastics, small plastic particles that reach our bodies through dietary exposure and other environmental factors. This can bring a certain hysteria and cause us to flee from any plastic as a material in contact with food, but the truth is that there is no reason to fear for it. All plastics approved for use in food are safe, and are subject to strict regulations that regulate them in the European Union.
In addition, in the specific field of cutting boards, resistant plastics such as polypropylene, with a good thickness, do not pose any problem as long as let us renew the table when it is badly bruised or have deep cuts and cracks. Don’t worry about microplastics: instead pay attention to food poisoning that is just around the corner due to cross-contaminations and microbiologically unsafe materials.