For people who care about their food

Chopping boards – plastic or wood?

Colour-coded high-density plastic chopping boardsI posted about my Yorkshire Pudding silicone vs tin challenge, and during the course of discussion in the comments section it seemed that many of us are traditionalists when it comes to certain pieces of equipment. The subject turned to chopping boards and whether plastic or wood was better. Dave, who posted there about boards in the first place, said that he uses wooden boards at home, whereas – as you can see from many of my photos – I use the pro colour-coded plastic ones. (Colour coding is included in my food hygiene series.)

There’s an interesting piece of research by Dean O Cliver, of the University of California, in which he set out to find out how to clean wooden boards to make them as hygienic as plastic ones. However, his research seemed to suggest that wooden boards were more hygienic than plastic ones in the first place.
[Edit: Unfortunately the original link placed in this article has been lost, but you can download the full paper as a PDF here.]

Many people, including me, were under the impression that colour coded boards are a legal requirement in a commercial kitchen in the UK. But now I’m not so sure that’s the case, so I did a bit of digging.

The Food Standards Agency offers a booklet entitled Food Hygiene: A Guide for Businesses. This is in PDF format and is available for free download (489 KB). Plenty of mentions about avoiding cross-contamination, but nothing about colour coding. Hmm. (It’s an interesting and useful guide anyway, so you might as well get it since it’s free.)

Wooden food-grade chopping boardsI’ve also hunted around various government sites in an attempt to ascertain the legal requirements for chopping boards. I found plenty of info that separate boards should be used for the preparation of raw meats and other foods, but found nothing at all to suggest that colour coding was a legal requirement.

Perhaps you know better? Please feel free to comment.

PS: Nisbets sell a great range of chopping boards: colour coded, of course, in low and high density plastic, as well as wooden ones in various sizes.

(UK delivery only)

Nisbets only deliver within the UK. If you live outside the UK, or want to shop around first, why not have a look at Not Delia’s Amazon Cook Shops instead?
Not Delia’s Cook Shop: UK and EU (prices in £)
Not Delia’s Cook Shop: non-EU (prices in US $)

10 Responses to “Chopping boards – plastic or wood?”

  1. dave

    Nice one Kay, i would assume it would be difficult to colour code wooden blocks so the easy option for the less able caterers to avoid cross contamination is the polyethelyne colour coded option. I suppose that if wood was such a threat wooden spoons would be banished as a dangerous threat to health also. it it my belief that a good wooden block cleaned with salt and a wire brush can not be topped for germ free hygiene. Just my opinion.

  2. Mr Not Delia

    Polyethylene seems to be much of a muchness.

    When we moved countries a few years back we bought a cheap low-density polyethylene chopping board (one of those housewifey white ones with the handle at one end and a groove round the other three sides) as a stop-gap until Not Delia could get hold of some professional colour-coded ones. Before too long the surface had cut up quite badly in places, and you certainly wouldn’t want to use it for raw meat or fish.

    By comparison, the pro ones have lasted very well, although the cross-hatching on the green one (which gets used for veg – we couldn’t find a brown one) seems to be wearing a bit smooth now after over five years.

    “Buy cheap, buy several times” seems to be the message when it comes to polyethylene boards.

  3. dave

    It’s interesting that the colour coded boards are maybe not a legal requirement the inspectors are always interested in what you use, on wood versus plastic though my experience stems from the mid seventies when we were ordered to eject our wooden butchers block and all cutting boards and replace them with white plastic ones or face losing our catering licence. Every establishment i have been to since use them, mostly coloured, i still don’t like them.

  4. Not Delia

    I didn’t know you are/were a chef or restaurateur, Dave. I might want to pick your brains about things sometimes. 🙂

    My experience too has been that every commercial establishment I’ve seen in the UK uses the coloured boards – sometimes rigorously and some I’ve seen where the people just take the nearest board regardless of its purpose.

    I like to do cheffy things and have pro equipment at home and had thought that the coloured boards were the dog’s wotsits. Now I’m not so sure. My green board will need replacing very soon so I’m seriously considering getting a wooden one instead.

    Have you any other ideas are traditional vs modern equipment for me to write about, please?

  5. dave

    Only forty years experience give or take a year Kay, I’m sure equipment galore will spring to mind but for starters as a northern lad my roast dinner must be accompanied with gravy which is little more than jus lie with flour to thicken, why do some chefs insist on serving water with my meal, jus lie or gravy, which do you prefer?

  6. Not Delia

    I’m a very funny eater, Dave, and I like my food quite wet. So I like plenty of gravy. I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of jus lie before (blush) but I looked it up on Google, so at least I know what it is now.

    Looks like you’re the expert on this one. 40 years, eh? That’s pretty good and you obviously know what you’re talking about. I had a blip in my career (as an accountant LOL!) and trained as a chef, but I think I was too old to be starting out at the job by then and I couldn’t stand the heat so I got out of the kitchen. (And did a business degree instead.)

    Not Delia is a good outlet for me cos I can cook, write, take photos, and enjoy my passion for food. Would you believe I don’t eat much, though? It’s something I do rather than something I feel the need to consume.

    BTW, I welcome guest bloggers so if you wanted to write something about gravy or jus lie I’d love to have it. Otherwise, I’ll research and write it myself. No worries, and thanks for your input. 🙂

  7. dave

    Love to, by the way i think you made the right choice with your career although i would’nt change a thing, looking way back to the sixties, there were some chefs i worked with that would make Marco and his chum Gordon look like pussycats, made a better person of me in the long run though, i think. I am now working part time in a restaurant in St. Julians, if 39 hours a week is part time, ha.(i missed it so much) but will keep in touch.

  8. Not Delia

    Yeah, some of these guys really have to be seen to be believed. And in my opinion Gordon Ramsay is a terrible role model. He gives the message that it’s OK and “big” to abuse and bully people. It’s not smart, but some wannabes follow his example.

    I know what you mean about missing the action. When we lived in Delhi I did several stints in the British and American clubs as a guest chef. Kinda fun to get stuck in again. I loved it.

  9. keith green

    Its all about microscopic organisms,plastic is impervious,wood is not,or in another term,you put a contaminated raw chicken on both surfaces,which one would obsourbe the most bacteria.Plastic,every time.To prevent contamination.

  10. Mr Not Delia

    Keith, unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.

    Plastic is impervious, yes. But in practice that means that any bacteria not removed (eg because they’ve been caught in scratches, or the board hasn’t been washed thoroughly) simply sit on the surface and multiply.

    Wood is absorbent. In practice – to the surprise of Dr Cliver and his fellow researchers – that seems to mean that any bacteria left in scratches or in pores on the surface of the wood are absorbed and rendered harmless in the process.

    I encourage you to download and read the paper, or at least its abstract (I’ve fixed the link) – it’s quite an eye-opener. One particularly striking comment at the end, with reference to the similar findings of an earlier experiment:

    Inoculated bacteria were readily recovered from plastic surfaces, regardless of the polymer and whether the boards were new or used.

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