To eat healthy, it helps to have a healthy kitchen. Cutting boards are handy helpers when it's time to chop vegetables or mince garlic or slice the salmon steaks for dinner. But if they are not handled properly, cutting boards can harbour harmful bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella, which can lead to a foodborne illness infection (food poisoning). Take care in the kitchen with a few cutting board health and safety guidelines:

Choose your boards carefully. Wooden cutting boards look nice, but wood is porous - like a sponge. Bacteria can seep into a wooden cutting board and get lodged into any grooves or pits on the surface. Nonporous boards made from plastic or acrylic are easier to clean and care for than wood, and there is less risk that bacteria will be left on the surface after a proper cleaning. However, there is some debate on whether nonporous boards are actually better than wooden cutting boards. Some studies show that bacteria left on the surface of wooden cutting boards seep into the wood to make the surface that comes in contact with food bacteria-free, but the bacteria stay and multiply on the surface of nonporous cutting boards. So pick whichever board suits your fancy - just follow the cutting board safety and food handling recommendations.

Two are better than one. If you can, set aside one cutting board that is strictly for fresh produce and breads and another board to be used when preparing raw meat, poultry, or seafood. In this way, you protect yourself from the cross-contamination that may happen when bacteria is transferred from one food (that will be cooked) to another (that may be eaten without further cooking). If you often prep and cook meats, seek a board with a groove around the board for catching juices. Or you could do as some people do when prepping and cutting meat products: Skip the cutting board and use a dishwasher-safe plate or platter instead.

Lather, rinse, repeat. After each time you use your cutting board, wash it with hot, soapy water. Rinse with clear water and air dry or pat dry with a clean paper towel. Allow cutting boards to dry completely; wet conditions encourage bacteria build-up. It is advised that cutting boards get a more complete sanitizing periodically, depending on how often you use them. Here are some safe, sanitary options:

  • Run your boards through the dishwasher. The dishwasher's high temperatures and pulsating cleansing assures that any bacteria on your cutting board will be removed or destroyed. Plastic, acrylic, glass, and solid wood (i.e., not laminated wood) boards can be cleaned in the dishwasher.
  • Try a bleach blend. Mix one tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach with about 3.75 L of water and douse the surface of cutting boards. Let it stand for a few minutes and follow up with a clear water rinsing and air or pat drying. You might also keep a blend of this bleach solution on hand in a spray bottle for quick disinfecting.
  • Give your boards a vinegar bath. Pour some vinegar on a clean paper towel and wipe down your cutting board. Wait 10 minutes. Then use a new paper towel coated in 3% hydrogen peroxide for a second wipe-down. Let the board sit for 10 minutes before rinsing. White vinegar works well on wooden cutting boards, too.

Let go. Even if your cutting boards don't crack or break, every one of them will wear out eventually. When a board is visibly worn or has deep grooves and cuts in its surface, it's time for an upgrade.

Amy Toffelmire