Goodbye, Old Friends

Parting with past-prime cutting boards.

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Consider the types of foods and the volume of products that touch your many cutting boards. While the risk of cross-contamination can occur on any surface, the probability that it will occur on a cutting board is higher than most others. Maintaining these so they can be cleaned and sanitized efficiently and effectively is a very important aspect of your overall food safety system. You can reduce the risk of cross-contamination by implementing and maintaining strict color-coded product management, but the integrity of the board surface is important as well.

Here are several key points to consider as you review the cutting board inventory in your operations.

The hazards we are trying to reduce to a safe level on a cutting board surface are usually biological. Bacteria and viruses can be harbored in knife gouges, cracks, and split-grain areas in wooden boards. Boards that are dirty or in poor condition provide availability of food and moisture to bacteria. They survive on the surface and in the crevices and are then loosened and transferred to the next product that comes in contact with the board.

If you cannot or do not thoroughly clean a board, you cannot sanitize it. You cannot effectively sanitize through dirt. Dirt negates the effectiveness of the sanitizer.

Continual dirt buildup as a result of poor cleaning creates bio-films on surfaces that are extremely hard to remove without aggressive mechanical action; scrub brushes and pads in hot detergent solutions need to be used on a regular basis. I strongly suggest manually washing your boards at regular intervals even if you generally send them all through the dish machine.

Poorly maintained and worn wooden boards will have a tendency to absorb any liquids that are placed on them. If the liquid happens to be blood and bacteria from raw meats and the board is not processed properly, you run the risk of crosscontamination.

Wooden boards can be as safe as plastic and composites, but they require a good deal more work to achieve the same surface integrity. How many wooden boards in your operation are sent to the dish machine or pot sink? How many times this year have your wooden boards been resealed with an appropriate food-grade sealer to minimize absorption of hazardous materials?

Do you use the same wooden boards for both raw and cooked products? Are you sure you are properly cleaning and sanitizing the surfaces between uses?

Warped plastic boards are not stable and increase the potential for knife wounds. Boards that are used with serrated knives will generally need to be taken out of service quicker.

Carefully consider these factors so you know when to say “goodbye” to old friends.

Norm Faiola

Norm Faiola, PhD, MPS, is the White Lodging Professor in the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, Indiana. He can be reached at nafaiola@gmail.com.