Myth or Fact: The Antibacterial Properties of Wood

hardwood chopping board

A few years ago, a group of health and safety experts employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommended the use of cutting boards manufactured from plastic materials as being safer and more hygienic than those made from wood.  Shortly afterwards the department admitted that they had made the claim in error without doing any background research beforehand – meaning that the advice offered previously was based on a potentially incorrect assumption.

Can Wood Cutting Boards Really Prevent Bacteria From Breeding?

According to a scientific study on Plastic and Wooden Chopping Boards, which was conducted by Dean O. Cliver, Ph.D, it has transpired that wooden chopping boards are in fact hygienic owing to the fact that certain types of wood do seem to exhibit antibacterial properties.  The research was carried out at the University of Wisconsin and involved the testing of an extensive range of wooden and plastic chopping boards made from different source materials in order to see how long various examples of dangerous bacteria could survive on each type of cutting surface.

In order to test the safety of the boards, three main types of bacteria, well known to cause serious food poisoning, were used.   The bacteria used in the experiment were E. Coli, Salmonella and Listeria.  Quite surprisingly, when considering the initial ‘unfounded’ advice that plastic is safer, the wooden chopping boards provided outstanding results on every occasion.

Although plastic chopping boards have a nonporous surface when new, many of the cheaper boards can scar quite easily when used with sharp cutting implements.   With regular use, the damage accumulates over time and creates a rough surface that can become awkward to clean regardless of whether the board is soaked, cleaned manually with hot running water or placed in dishwasher using bleach and detergents.  Of course, high-end plastic cutting boards are not as susceptible to such damage in everyday use.

The tests results indicate that the surface of a wooden board will actually stop dangerous bacteria from multiplying and the germs simply die out after a period of about three minutes.  Following the experiment, the scientists at the University of Wisconsin found that 99.9% of the bacteria placed on the wooden chopping boards had died out completely within minutes whereas some of the cheaper plastic boards had very little effect in terms of killing dangerous microbes.

After being left overnight in normal room temperature conditions, the wooden chopping boards had no living bacteria left on them at all.  Although the researchers were unable to identify how or why the wood cutting boards were able to kill off the bacteria – it really does seem that wood does have antibacterial properties after all.

A high quality chopping board should last a good number of years, and even the older wooden boards that were tested performed exceptionally well after prolonged usage with sharp cutting implements.  This is because the fibres are seemingly able to heal themselves – provided the chopping board itself is made from a quality wood source using traditional manufacturing techniques as opposed to the cheaper, mass-produced cutting boards that tend to be imported from overseas.

As to which type of wood the research favours, pine and oak seem to be the most effective in terms of stopping bacteria from breeding and killing off the germs.  However, many other types of wood such as maple can be just as effective.

If you would like to know more about the tests that were carried out at the University of Wisconsin by Dean O. Cliver and his team, you can read the full report here: http://faculty.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/faculty/docliver/Research/cuttingboard.htm.

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