Tuesday, November 29, 2011



Jonathan Huang

The End Grain Cutting Board

One of the most important tools for the home cook or Chef is the Chef's knife. Keeping a sharp knife is a matter of safety as much as it is a matter of efficiency. Plastic cutting boards are harder than wood cutting boards and will dull knives much faster than long grain or end grain wood. But is plastic more hygienic than wood?

For a long time plastic was considered more hygienic than wood, because it is nonporous and harder. The thinking went that since plastic was hard and non porous it would have fewer scratches from knives and harbor less bacterial growth. Plastics are used in hospitals and have a clean reputation. For years the Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture made plastic cutting boards required in commercial kitchens of restaurants hospitals, anywhere and every where in the US that prepared food for public consumption. That all changed in 1994 though when Dean O. Cliver P.H.D. began his research at UC Davis, testing bacterial growth on wooden and plastic cutting boards comparatively. In his study which is neatly summarized here:
Cliver used wood and plastic cutting boards that were old and knife scarred, an looked for E Coli, and Samonella. He found that on wooden cutting boards bacteria applied was later irrecoverable, on plastic however bacteria persisted and in some cases multiplied. Wooden cutting boards also have the advantage of being able to be microwaved for short periods of time to disinfect them.
Since Cliver's research has been published his finding have been replicated in many other labs and have even become a popular high school science experiment. The USDA and the FDA now recommend hard wood cutting boards as well as plastic: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/PDF/cutting_boards_and_food_safety.pdf actually more important than the material of the board is the separation of cutting boards for separate cutting duties for chicken and beef and veggies.
Of wooden cutting boards end grain boards are the easiest on kitchen knives. This is because the edge of the blade actually cuts with the direction of the wood fibers as opposed to across the wood fibers. For the serious chef this means less time sharpening, honing, and stropping the kitchen knife and more time chopping, slicing, dicing, and julienning. End grain cutting boards also have a "self healing" feature that helps them wear better than long grain or plastic.
For a project for next semester I would like to make several end grain butcher block cutting boards out of Maple and African Mahogany. In my research for cutting board plans I came across this video http://thewoodwhisperer.com/butcher-block-cutting-board/ by Marc Spagnuolo. Watch this! You will be hooked! (He is a lot like Shannon, in that he can discuss at length a myriad technical wood working topics, he has videos on efficient sanding, detailing various paper types and pad densities for the ROS. He has a video on chisel sharpening, and even has a video about nasal irrigation to wash out sawdust particles! I have been doing this for years and have found it very beneficial as a ceramic artist to flush the nasal passages of ceramicy micro boogies.)

Anyways, in Marc's video he details more than just dimensions and procedures but has many useful tips that like using an ink brayer to spread wood glue, turning the wood pieces at 90 degrees to make glue up speedy and efficient, and wrapping wooden "calls" in clear packing tape to deter glue from sticking to them. Marc explains that titebond 2 is a food safe, as well as salad bowl varnish which he likes to finish the cutting board with.
Before I make my first end grain cutting board I will do a little more research on various finishes and wood toxicity levels. Coming from a family of epicureans I know end grain cutting boards will be an appreciated and well used gift.

3 comments:

Shannon Wright said...

Wow.
I just learn the nasal saline flush trick-- and learned today that a second person has died in Louisiana from using a neti pot with tap water instead of distilled water-- but never thought to to use it to clear out sawdust. Good idea!

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