And how to pick the healthiest ones

What’s in Wood Cutting Boards?

Food

With plenty of time at home in the last 12 months, we've all visited the kitchen more frequently – and gladly. This, of course, means that we're basically certifiable chefs. (And how could we not be after streaming all of the known tele-verse? There's now time and much inspiration to mince fresh garlic into culinary fairy dust.) While you've been chopping away, have you ever wondered what goes into those beautiful wooden or bamboo cutting boards? Especially the ones with blocks of wood artfully stuck together? We wondered too, so we looked into it. Read on to learn more!

Wood: the Good

Prepping food on wood or bamboo cutting boards has a number of known benefits. Unlike plastic, wood doesn't contribute microplastics into our food (or the environment!), and bamboo is a quickly regenerated sustainable resource. Wood materials also have antimicrobial properties, in part because they can absorb and trap bacteria deep in the wood fibers! (3) Studies have shown that properly cleaned and dried wood cutting boards harbor very few live bacteria on the cutting board surfaces (1-5).

What About the Other Stuff?

Some wood cutting boards are crafted out of single blocks of wood, but more commonly they contain pieces that are glued together. Cutting board materials fall under the FDA's "food contact substances" and "indirect food additives" regulations since any part of a cutting board could potentially touch our food (6). When FDA-approved food contact substances like glue resins/polymers are completely cured (totally dried), they are considered food safe (7). Even so, some approved substances like melamine-formaldehyde resins can release harmful gases and cause other issues for human and environmental health (8). Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, and chronic low-level melamine exposure is associated with early kidney disease, among other problematic health outcomes (9). (See our article on melamine dishware to learn more about why it's not great for health). Petroleum-derived wood preservatives like paraffin wax and petroleum hydrocarbon resin are also not great for the environment.

Another thing to keep in mind is that while the FDA requires imported products to comply with the same US safety regulations, unfortunately sometimes these products are non-compliant (10). Look for products that specifically state that they meet FDA food contact regulations, or ask the manufacturer if you're not sure! Imported wood also might require fumigation with methyl bromide prior to shipping to the US, depending on what type it is and where it's coming from (11, 12). While pest management is an important step to prevent the introduction of disease or invasive species from abroad, methyl bromide contributes to ozone layer depletion and can cause system-wide bodily harm to those spraying it (13). (Bamboo timber is generally allowable without any treatment if it meets certain conditions(14).) The bottom line is that some glues, products, and practices are definitely better than others, so it's a good idea to look for wood cutting boards that minimize these health and environmental risks.

5 Recommendations for Choosing a Healthy Wood Cutting Board

We know it can be overwhelming to research the healthiest options out there, so here are 5 recommendations to help your browsing:

  1. Choose wood or bamboo over plastic – even with the possible concerns listed above, wood is still a better choice for decreasing your microplastic and toxin exposure!
  2. Look for cutting boards made from a single piece of wood (to get you started, here are non-toxic cypress, Vermont maple, and teak options). You can also find Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified boards that minimize environmental harm by using sustainably harvested woods.
  3. If you choose a cutting board made from multiple glued pieces (which are frankly beautiful and more widely available), make sure the glue used is free from formaldehyde and melamine. Some bamboo cutting boards like this one have a pressure/heat treated process that allow for a glue-free surface.
  4. Pick cutting boards with mild non-toxic coatings like beeswax (or look for an unfinished one that you can finish yourself with our DIY cutting board oil recipe below!)
  5. If you're not sure what types of glue or coatings a manufacturer uses (or if you want to make sure it's FDA-approved), feel free to contact them and ask what types of ingredients and regulations they use and follow. You would definitely not be the first person to ask! For reference, Titebond III and Gorilla Wood Glue are both considered safer for food contact.

DIY Cutting Board Conditioner Oil

To help you maintain a lustrous, resilient and non-toxic cutting surface, here's our simple cutting board conditioner recipe:

  • 3/4 cup MCT oil (or walnut oil)
  • 1/4 cup beeswax
  • Directions: Melt the oil and beeswax together in the microwave or on the stovetop, then brush the mixture onto your cutting board and let it soak in for 3 hours. You can seal your boar as often as once a month, but we find that sealing it just a few times a year works well too!

If you're looking for a refresher on wood cutting board cleaning recommendations, we've got you covered here. Enjoy your culinary endeavors!


References

  1. Moore, Ginny, Ian S. Blair, and DAVID A. McDOWELL. "Recovery and transfer of Salmonella typhimurium from four different domestic food contact surfaces." Journal of food protection, vol. 70, no. 10, 2007, pp. 2273-2280. https://doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X-70.10.2273
  2. Lücke, Friedrich-Karl, and Agnieszka Skowyrska. "Hygienic aspects of using wooden and plastic cutting boards, assessed in laboratory and small gastronomy units." Journal für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit, vol. 10, no. 4, 2015, pp. 317-322. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00003-015-0949-5
  3. Boursillon, Dominique, and Volker Riethmüller. "The safety of wooden cutting boards." British Food Journal vol. 109, no. 4, 2007. https://doi.org/10.1108/00070700710736561
  4. Ak, Nese O., Dean O. Cliver, and Charles W. Kaspar. "Cutting boards of plastic and wood contaminated experimentally with bacteria." Journal of Food Protection, vol. 57, no. 1, 1994, pp. 16-22. https://doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X-57.1.16
  5. Cliver, Dean O. "Cutting boards in Salmonella cross-contamination." Journal of AOAC International, vol. 89, no. 2, 2006, pp. 538-542. https://doi.org/10.1093/jaoac/89.2.538
  6. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-ingredients-packaging/food-ingredient-packaging-terms
  7. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=23a3c29a77c934f528ed12988c803c24&mc=true&node=sp21.3.175.c&rgn=div6
  8. https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/sites/default/files/classic//toxics/compwood/consumer_faq.pdf
  9. Liu, Chia-Chu, et al. "Interrelationship of Environmental Melamine Exposure, Biomarkers of Oxidative Stress and Early Kidney Injury." Journal of hazardous materials, vol. 396. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2020.122726
  10. https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/02/66-of-products-tested-from-online-marketplaces-amazon-marketplace-aliexpress-ebay-and-wish-failed-safety-tests/
  11. https://www.compliancegate.com/wooden-bamboo-kitchen-products-regulations-united-states/
  12. https://helpspanish.cbp.gov/s/article/Article-897?language=en_US
  13. https://www.epa.gov/ods-phaseout/methyl-bromide
  14. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=8765cd13ef440b0571f9f5298dcc757b&mc=true&node=sp7.5.319.i&rgn=div6
Food

3 Reasons Why You Should Buy a Wood Cutting Board

Making a simple swap from plastic makes a HUGE difference

Cutting boards, probably one word runs through your head - "ugh" - and we couldn't agree more! They're kind of unwieldy but somehow never big enough, a pain to clean and sometimes gross. Maybe a BIG emphasis on the gross part. Unfortunately, just like breakfast, lunch and dinner, cutting boards are kind of a package deal when it comes to cooking, but we got a simple swap for you that will make your life a whole lot easier when it comes to cutting boards. Say goodbye to your midnight Google searches of "how do I keep my cutting board clean" or "what kind of cutting board is best?" after you put the kids to bed. Excited? Us too!

Keep Reading Show Less
Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL

Am I the only one whose kitchen can quickly go from a calm, peaceful, nourishing, and dare I say, the most instagrammable part of my house, to a real life nightmare in about 20 minutes flat? And on the weekends, this transformation literally happens multiple times during the day. In order to help you through the roller coaster ride of kitchen cleanliness, we put together this simple guide so that you don't have to resort to using cleaners with toxic chemicals that can harm your health. After all, you're spending so much time cooking and eating in your kitchen that you want to make sure everything you're using is healthy.

Keep Reading Show Less
Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL