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Few things get as used and abused in a kitchen as does the humble chopping board, but which type is best suited to your needs?

Introduction

Contrary to popular belief, there are no legal requirements or H&S Regulations to dictate what material, type or colour of boards should be used in a commercial kitchen. There are guidelines of course, the idea being to help you reduce the ever lurking danger of cross-contamination. However, as long as you have a consistent work method in place, and your chopping boards are clearly coloured or labelled or charted, you can use any board in any way you wish.

At this point though, we come to the eternal debate over what’s really the best material to use in a chopping board. While they’re made from anything from rubber to marble, the main area of discussion is:

Wood or Plastic?

For years, food hygienists have largely insisted that plastic is better. It’s harder, and it can be washed in bleach or washed at high temperatures in a dishwasher. It’s non porous, and can be dyed to conform to H&S colour coding charts.

That all seems pretty convincing, but in fact several studies have been run over the years, some of which have looked much more closely at wood.

It appears that wood has natural anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties, both physical (wood dries out microbes and bacteria, effectively desiccating them to death) and chemical (tannins and polyphenols are toxic to microbes). This depends a lot on the type of wood used, and how you treat your chopping board, but overall most studies have fallen in favour of wood as a food preparation surface. At the very least, there’s no case study that firmly puts plastic at the forefront.

So modern thinking has come around. Wood is certainly easier on your Chef’s knives, which means less blunting and therefore perhaps less chance of slipping and cutting yourself. It looks fabulous too, which while we know is an aspect of cuisine best invested in Front of House, still helps overall in kitchen morale amid the plastic and steel of everything else we use in there.

Different types of wooden board

As far as wood chopping boards go, there are essentially three types.

Standard chopping boards are machined from a single piece of wood, with the grain usually running laterally across. These are really for casual use at home because unless at least 2-3” thick they’ll eventually warp.

The middle man is the edge-grain board. This is made from a series of strips of wood glued together at the longest side, giving an aesthetically pleasing striped look to the surface. Again, the grain runs laterally, so you generally cut across it while prepping. These boards are generally thicker and weightier, but comparatively easy to manufacture.

Finally there’s the commonly known as the Butcher’s Block. These titans are made from very exact sawn blocks of wood which are stood on their ends and glued together – an expensive process – resulting in a surface where the grain actually runs vertically down the block and away from you.

This is the kindest surface for knives, and has some self-healing properties, but is also the most absorbent so needs to be cleaned carefully and allowed to dry properly. Expensive they may be, and not always appropriate on a table surface because their huge thickness raises the height you’re prepping at to a possibly uncomfortable level. But they will literally last several lifetimes if looked after carefully.

Different varieties of wood

In terms of types of wood, there are some good and some not recommended.

Tropical hardwoods can contain toxins or allergens and generally make bad chopping boards – apart from teak, which has natural oily resins making it resistant to microbes, moisture and rot. Pine has higher anti-sceptic properties than most other woods. It’s softer than most, but cheap. Generally, look for a board made from a hardwood that’s tightly grained with small pores, such as maple, walnut, beech and cherry.

So properly washed and treated with antibacterial spray, wood is now regarded as equally hygienic to any other surface. Just never put wooden boards in a dishwasher. Occasionally treat them with a light mineral oil and a steel scraper.

Having propounded wood with enthusiasm, we ought to revisit plastic because it’s fair to say it’s the most commonly used material for chopping boards by far. Largely because it’s cheap, true enough. But again, a false economy can come back at you.

Plastic is still fantastic

Thick (15mm+) plastic boards need much less maintenance, being dishwasher proof, and are the most hardwearing of materials as well as being colour-coded – the first and easiest line of defence against cross-contamination. These 2cm-thick slabs of high density polyethylene are the Royal Family of commercial practicality. Nothing short of a nuclear war will stop these boards from a kitchen lifetime of service. At 18”x12” they’re a generous size too.

Other materials are generally avoided in a commercial kitchen – although marble is good for dough because it’s a cool surface.

As a final cautionary note – just remember that even a red board (raw meat) should be washed and sprayed between prepping raw chicken and then raw beef which you might be cooking rare.

Hygienic Colour-Coding Guide


Comments

Lockhart Catering on 17 August 2016 11:00 AM

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