Are Wooden Cutting Boards Illegal to Use in Restaurants?

Are Wooden Cutting Boards Illegal to Use in Restaurants?

Is it even legal to use a wooden cutting board in my restaurant?

Wondering what the situation really is when choosing proper cutting surfaces for your beloved business?

We put together a definitive list of articles and a brief overview to put your mind at ease about using your favorite wooden chopping block in your restaurant.

So - can you freely use a wooden cutting board in your restaurant? 

The short answer? Yes you can. 

You can have a whole fleet of edge-grain wooden cutting boards in your establishment, proudly and legally.

And your business will benefit greatly because of them.

The Facts

While it’s true that the local health inspector could potentially question you about your choice of a wooden chopping block, you would be in right standing with both law and science for having them. In fact, as of the writing of this article, neither the FDA nor the USDA prohibit the use of wooden prep surfaces in the kitchen anywhere in the country. To the contrary, they acknowledge that it’s the better choice for multiple reasons.

Not only that, but there is no scientific evidence anywhere of properly maintained cutting boards made of hardwoods such as Maple, Walnut, Ash, Beech, or Oak presenting harmful levels of bacteria to the end user in either consumer or commercial environments, even after prolonged use. To the contrary, the woods I just listed are remarkably antimicrobial in their natural state. It’s an immunity feature that trees employ to resist biological intruders in the environment. Even after a tree gets felled, milled, planed, joined, and sanded in the woodshop, they retain this feature and we get to enjoy the benefits in the kitchen.


We always want to be in line with the health inspector, and we know you do, too. While the medical establishment and the US government have found no fault with these beautiful, time tested instruments, rumors and legends can be hard to kill. Here are some things to consider when using a Walnut Board like the ones we make here at Brazos in your commercial kitchen.


The Rules


    1. Have a four hour rule



Every four hours, without exception, have one of your trusted scullions run that team of wooden boards through the hot, soapy scrub-and-dry process. Having the relief guy do it first thing during the afternoon shift change will probably be best. It’ll give the dishwashers 15 minutes to get to know each other, and hand off the 2nd shift workload seamlessly. Drying these boards quickly (squeegee and dry rag will do the trick) is just as important as the scrubbing. (Tip: for colorful stains like blackberry or blood, use kosher sea salt and a clean wet rag to scrub the board’s face before the soap and water phase. Works great.)

    1. Divide and conquer



It’s always wise to have multiple boards, designated specifically for a task. Vegetables and fruits carry their own pathogens, and soils, from the harvest into the kitchen. In a commercial application, it’s best to label and separate them for their entire lifetime of use. Our solution? Order (at least) three boards and have us burn the side with “Meat”, “Fruits n Veggies” and “Dairy”. It'll look awesome too. 

      1. Avoid the dishwasher at all costs.



    Let’s face it. Your dishwasher, let’s call him Joe, has a system. Joe likes to scrape, squirt, sort, and slam everything into that sweet Hobart you bought for the busy shift. Make it a point, if your machine is big enough to fit your blocks, that your trusted, beloved Joey boy never ever puts your beautiful black walnut boards in there. It will turn those precious wooden treasures into a pile of rectangular disease sponges after just a few short trips through. Eventually they will just fall apart. Sorry, Joe – it’s part of the job. You probably already know this – but this also goes for soaking in the sink. You’d be better off throwing them in the chipper shredder and tossing them in the garden. Take it from me, I was a professional scullion and dishwasher for a long time. 

      1. Keep your knives sharp



    Use a service like PostKnife to keep everything running razor sharp and new. The duller your knife, the harder you work and the more damage you cause- to your body and your gear. A dull knife is a dangerous knife - pushing too hard with a blade in your hand is just asking for an accident. So, sharpening is crucial, but what’s just as important – don’t dull them in the first place. If there’s one thing you’ll see over and over again in the articles below, it’s that hardwoods, when tested in the lab, had by far the least dulling effect on the blades they encountered. In one study, the plastic boards had “destroyed” commercial grade knives in as few as 50 stokes, whereas the hardwoods had preserved the original edge of the same blade for well into the hundreds of impacts. Soft Board = Dull knife. Are plastic boards soft? Yes they are. After just a few strokes, they get that mysterious fuzzy white spot where you frayed the plastic. 

    Hmm... seems like a great place for bacteria and viruses to hide until they get all over your knife...

      1. Oil it.



    Oil doesn’t just make your board “pop” beautifully on your countertop, it’s actually a health precaution, too. Food grade mineral oil should be applied to the whole board with a lint-free rag (like a bandana) right after it comes off the drying rack. This will repel water and other contaminants from entering even the tiniest crack. You’ll make the board last longer, and resist the possibility of a crack split or splinter.


    We hope this helps. Below, you’ll find a mountain of helpful research (with choice quotes pulled out for convenience) to help you navigate your decision to turn your plastic boards into what they’re best used for: tiny sleds for your cat.



    The best articles for legal insight:

    “A Cut Above”

    By Robert W. Powitz, Ph.D., MPH

    To set the stage on the enforcement issue of cutting boards used in retail food establishments, consider that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had no scientific evidence to support their recommendation that plastic, rather than wooden cutting boards be used.[2] Whereas the Food Code permits the use of cutting boards made of maple or similar close-grained hardwood, it also calls for “non-absorbent” and easily cleaned materials for surfaces that food contacts. Neither agency prohibits commercial establishments from using wooden cutting boards, nor do they specifically authorize acceptable plastic materials, or specify how plastic surfaces must be maintained.

    …On the other hand, more recent studies by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confirmed the conventional belief that plastic is safer than wood for cutting meat and poultry. One study reported that new wooden boards had antimicrobial qualities while plastic cutting boards trapped bacteria…


    Creating a Great Cutting Boards and Wipe Rag Program

    By Robert W. Powitz, Ph.D., MPH

    Series: SANITARIAN'S FILE | August/September 2007

    This review demonstrates that the porous nature of wood, especially when compared with smooth surfaces, is not responsible for the limited hygiene of the material used in the food industry and that it may even be an advantage for its microbiological status. In fact, its rough or porous surface often generates unfavorable conditions for microorganisms. In addition, wood has the particular characteristic of producing antimicrobial components able to inhibit or limit the growth of pathogenic microorganisms.


    Microbial Safety of Wood in Contact with Food: A Review

    Florence Aviat1, Christian Gerhards2, José-Juan Rodriguez-Jerez3, Valérie Michel4, Isabelle Le Bayon5, Rached Ismail1, Michel Federighi1

    Further, one of these studies indicated that use of plastic cutting boards in home kitchens is hazardous, whereas use of wooden cutting boards is not.


    Plastic Versus Wood

    Dean O Cliver1

    Mar-Apr 2006


    For a long time, most (if not all) cutting boards were made of wood. But at some point people began using plastic cutting boards. The idea was that they were easier to clean (and sanitize), and therefore were safer.

    But in the late 1980s, a UC Davis researcher named Dean Cliver – the de facto godfather of cutting board food safety – decided to investigate whether plastic cutting boards really were safer. Answer: not really.


    Fast Facts About Cutting Boards and Food Safety in Your Kitchen

    September 23, 2014 Matt Shipman

    A great wooden cutting board will last years while extending the lifetime of your knife blades. Contrary to common belief, wooden cutting boards are also easier to keep clean and sanitary than most of their plastic counterparts.




    The Best Wooden Cutting Boards


    Published: July 9, 2019Last Updated: February 13, 2020

    Avoid Cross-Contamination
    The Meat and Poultry Hotline says that consumers may use wood or a nonporous surface for cutting raw meat and poultry. However, consider using one cutting board for fresh produce and bread and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. This will prevent bacteria on a cutting board that is used for raw meat, poultry, or seafood from contaminating a food that requires no further cooking.

    Cleaning Cutting Boards
    To keep all cutting boards clean, the Hotline recommends washing them with hot, soapy water after each use; then rinse with clear water and air dry or pat dry with clean paper towels. Nonporous acrylic, plastic, or glass boards and solid wood boards can be washed in a dishwasher (laminated boards may crack and split).

    Both wooden and plastic cutting boards can be sanitized with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Flood the surface with the bleach solution and allow it to stand for several minutes. Rinse with clear water and air dry or pat dry with clean paper towels.

    “Cutting Boards and Food Safety” Last Modified Aug 02, 2013


    Food-contact surfaces

    Any food-contact surface, such as a knife or cutting board, constantly used with time/temperature control for safety (TCS) foods should be cleaned at least every four hours. Why the four hour rule? It’s because TCS foods require time or temperature control to help control the growth of dangerous pathogens. And within four hours, foodborne bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels. Serving food with high levels of bacteria can get your customers sick. Even if you cook the food properly, the bacteria can still be at high enough levels to get your customers sick. The list of TCS foods includes meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy and dairy products, protein-rich plants, cooked vegetables, potato dishes, and more. Pay close attention to the special equipment that comes in contact with TCS foods in your establishment. For example, a meat slicer needs to be cleaned regularly because it comes into regular contact with meat.

    If a food worker is switching tasks, such as switching from cutting meat to slicing vegetables, the food-contact surfaces and equipment used should be cleaned and sanitized between tasks. This helps prevent cross-contamination and keeps your food safe.

    Janilyn Hutchings

    Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.


    Plastic or Wooden Cutting Boards: Which Is Better?

    Jen McCaffery Updated: Oct. 18, 2019


    Researchers who compared the number of bacteria found on plastic cutting boards to the amount on wooden cutting boards found that wooden cutting boards, regardless of whether they were new or used, had fewer bacteria after cleaning than used plastic cutting boards, Heil says. Another study showed similar results.



    Poster: Keep ‘Em Separated


    Which Cutting Board Material is Best: Wood or Plastic?

    For a while, most folks just assumed plastic cutting boards were more sanitary than wood. After all, they're nonporous and, in theory, easier to sanitize. The reality is more complicated. Plastic is less porous than wood and so, when new, it's easier to sanitize. But with time, as scratches develop—especially deep ones where bacteria can hide and fester—plastic becomes increasingly difficult to keep clean. Eventually, a plastic board needs to be thrown out.

    Wood, meanwhile, is more porous, but studies have shown that fine-grained woods like maple (which are some of the better options for cutting boards) pull bacteria down into the board via capillary action, where the bacteria are trapped and eventually killed. Hard wood can also take more of a beating before surface scratches become a problem. Plus, it can be sanded to reset the surface to good-as-new condition, something you can't do with plastic.

    Plastic boards are still useful to have in the kitchen, though. I tend to grab them for anything that's going to be messy—whether it's raw meat or fish that I want to cut into smaller pieces or foods like beets that stain everything they touch—or when I just need a small board for something quick, like halving a lemon. Plastic boards wash up quickly and don't require the maintenance that wood does to stay in good shape, like frequent oiling.

    Glass and marble, in case you don't know, are unacceptable cutting board materials. They ruin knives practically on contact, and have a deeply unpleasant feel; a knife on glass is the kitchen equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard.


    Published: May 29, 2019Last Updated: July 11, 2019


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