Plastic Chopping Boards – A Buyers Guide.
Let’s face it, if you are going to invest good money in quality kitchen knives, then you need to buy the right chopping/cutting board. While many people are quick to dismiss plastic chopping boards in favour of wood, there are many reasons why they could be the perfect companion for your chef knife set.
In this article we’ll aim to tell you everything you need to know about plastic cutting boards so you can make the right purchasing decision. They include:
- The advantages of plastic cutting boards vs wood
- High density vs low density polyethylene boards and how to spot the difference
- How to take care of your plastic cutting board and when to replace them, and
- Chopping board colours and what they signify
We’ll also bust some myths along the way and give you plenty of hints and tips.. So if you’re ready, sit back, relax and let’s get started…
Why opt for a plastic cutting board?
If you think about it, there are a wide number of materials that can be used as chopping boards. So while glass, marble or even steel may seem pretty cool, your knives (if they could speak of course) 🙂 might not agree.
Because they have one thing in common. They all have surfaces that are very hard.
Imagine the impact a cutting board has on your knife every time you chop or dice an item – especially when your board is made from a material that is tough and unyielding. Chances are, it’s going to obliterate your knife edge in an instant.
The right cutting board should be soft enough to cushion or absorb continual knife strikes, which in turn is unlikely to cause any major harm.
As far as your knives are concerned at least, the best cutting board types to preserve your kitchen knives are either made from plastic or wood.
Now, let’s assume that these are the only real viable options, it’s well worth spending a little time taking a closer look at the plastic cutting board vs wood debate. So we’ll do just that.
The advantages of a plastic cutting board vs wood
Quality wooden chopping boards don’t come cheap – especially when they’re made from woods like walnut, teak or even maple. Alternatively, plastic boards are on the whole considerably cheaper. In many cases around 50% less.
Okay, so they may not have the stylish charm of a real wood cutting board but they are just as functional (if not more so) and have many of the same durable qualities.
Plastic cutting boards don’t absorb smells
Perhaps the main advantage of plastic cutting boards vs wood is that they don’t absorb smells. How many times have you chopped onions garlic or fish on your stylish wooden board only for the smell to linger for some time afterwards?
On the contrary, buy a quality plastic chopping board and any lingering food aromas can quickly and easily be removed. Simply rinse with soapy water and a dash of vinegar or lemon juice if necessary and hey presto!
Moreover, you can even throw it in the dishwasher if you want. This is something that you certainly can’t do with a quality wooden cutting board.
Comes in many colours
While solid wood cutting boards come in several tones, plastic cutting boards come in a rainbow of colours. This is perfect when looking for a funky colour to match your kitchen style.
But from a practical perspective however, it allows you to do what many professional chef’s do and separate your boards according to the various foods groups for ultimate hygiene.
We’ll look more into chopping board colours for food prep later on in this guide, but for now, all you need to know is that they come in an endless variety of colours.
So now you know the advantages of plastic cutting boards, let’s take a look at High and low density cutting boards and how to tell the difference.
High density vs low density cutting boards explained.
When you buy a chopping board online, it comes in two different types of polyethylene – this is plastic cutting board material that most boards are made of.
- High density polyethylene (HDPE) and
- Low density polyethylene (LDPE)
While both types are widely used by chefs and home cooks alike, there are some subtle and no-so subtle differences between them.
HDPE Boards are heavier, thicker and more durable
HDPE cutting boards are heavier and thicker than their lower density counterparts. Typically, they have a board thickness of somewhere between 1.2 cms and 1.9 cms. Because of this they tend not to warp.
Moreover, their durable nature makes them more resilient to knife scratches or indents. However, since they are more durable, you can expect knives to need regular honing using a quality sharpening steel.
As a top tip – While a cutting board can be durable, it should still be relatively forgiving. Composite fibre cutting boards for instance are made using super-strong materials such as layered phenolic resins. Makers will often claim that they are ‘safe for kitchen knives’ but in reality, there is a massive trade-off between board hardness and knife longevity.
As a result, it wouldn’t pay to use a $300 Shun Damascus nickel Japanese chef’s knife on a composite board because you’ll be ‘asking for trouble’.
Therefore, the key is to look for a plastic cutting board that is soft enough to easily cut a thin slither from the side.
Okay, so it goes without saying that you won’t be able to do this in store. Well, not without facing a criminal damage lawsuit anyway 🙂 However, try it with your old or existing cutting boards first and you’ll know what we mean.
If you can balance a board that’s both soft enough and durable enough to not appear flimsy, chances are it’s a quality plastic cutting board that will stand the test of time – and remain kinder to your knives!
Low density equals cheaper prices
While we’ve talked a lot about HDPE boards, lower density (LDPE) cutting boards have their advantages too.
Primarily, they can be purchased for around 50% cheaper than many high density varieties. So, from a cost perspective, they offer a better initial proposition.
They are also lighter in weight than HDPE boards. Therefore they can easily be stored on smaller shelves or in drawers to avoid kitchen clutter.
That said, they can be prone to bending and warping over time, so they do need to be removed from a dishwasher before any drying cycle begins.
Taking of longevity..
How do you take care of your plastic cutting board?
Like anything in life, if you want something to last, you need to take good care of it. Plastic cutting boards for instance will need to be changed more frequently than wood varieties – That’s just a fact of life.
However, if you treat your board well, it should see you through 18 months – 2 years with no problem .
Caveat – This does however depend heavily upon how frequently you use it.
From a hygiene perspective, the best thing to kill bacteria is heat. Unfortunately, you need to watch out for warping, especially with low density plastic. So, if you are going to put your plastic board in the dishwasher and it is a low density board, always ensure removal before the drying cycle starts.
Alternatively, if you don’t fancy placing your cutting board in a dishwasher or don’t have one, here’s what you can do…
- Ensure the board is washed thoroughly using warm soapy water – Take a clean cloth and wipe it over. Don’t forget to wash both sides.
- Never us an abrasive – Always ensure you use a soft cloth and never an abrasive. Abrasives will cause scratches on your board which in turn can harbour more bacteria.
- Dry your board with a kitchen towel and never a tea towel – Why? Because tea towels are renowned for harbouring bacteria. Use one to dry your board and all you’ll be doing spreading any bacteria over your lovely (just cleaned) surface.
So what about storage?
The best way to store a plastic chopping board is to use a cutting board storage rack A quality rack will keep chopping boards from touching each other while allowing sufficient air flow between, thus keeping them dry.
If you don’t have a rack, then try storing it in a dry place in an upright position. This should prevent any moisture retention and any bacterial build-up.
But what about when you’ve had your board for a year or so… Are there signs you should look for that may tell you when it’s time to replace it?
When should you replace plastic chopping boards?
When deep grooves appear
While there is something to like about old wood cutting boards that have a distinct distressed look – cut marks and all – the same can’t be said for plastic chopping boards. Severe or multiple cut marks in a plastic board not only look ugly, they can also be a real health hazard.
Unfortunately plastic boards can harbour more bacteria than their wooden counterparts and this is why cleaning needs to be thorough.
Therefore, any cutting board with deep scratches can be difficult to clean and will run the risk of hiding harmful bacteria in their deep grooves. For this reason, when deep grooves start to appear in your plastic cutting board, it’s definitely time for a change.
In addition, we’ve already said that some plastic cutting boards can warp. When this happens and your board will no longer sit flat on the surface, it can become dangerous.
Remember, these boards are designed to be used alongside pretty sharp knives. The last thing you want is for the board to slip and rather than slicing through a carrot or potato, your finger gets the full force 🙁
Okay, so far we’ve talked about
- The advantages of plastic cutting boards vs wood
- The difference between high density and low density plastic chopping boards and
- How to look after and when to change your cutting board….
… now it’s time to talk about chopping board colours.
Should I buy different colour chopping boards?
The main reason to use different colour chopping boards for different food items is to stop cross contamination. In addition however, colour-coded plastic chopping boards can also help you to cater for any specific allergies or preferences. This way you won’t be using a meat chopping board when prepping vegetables for a vegan or vegetarian, or a cutting board previously used to prepare fish, for a person with a seafood allergy.
Using a universal code to distinguish which plastic cutting boards are used for which items makes good sense. It makes it easy and safe for any cook or chef to know immediately which food has previously been prepared on which board.
Coloured chopping boards are not as important if you’re a home cook and only prepare food for your immediate family on thoroughly cleaned chopping boards.
However, if you have family members with allergies, or are worried about cross-contamination; or cook for paying guests, then colour-coded cutting boards are good practises to follow.
Different colour plastic chopping boards explained
Surprisingly and somewhat confusingly, there isn’t one universal colour scheme. Instead different counties have adopted different practices.
This is the UK version for example as recommended by the UK Food Standards Agency.(FSA)
- Red cutting boards – Raw meat
- Yellow – Cooked meat
- Blue – Raw fish
- White – Dairy and bakery products
- Green – Fruits and salads
- Brown – Vegetables
However in the US, it differs. These are the recommended cutting board colours as laid down by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- Yellow – Raw poultry
- Beige/brown – fish or seafood
- Red – Raw meat
- Green – Vegetables and fruits
- Blue – Cooked foods
- White – dairy products
A word about purple chopping/cutting boards
You may have seen purple chopping boards amongst the array of colour-coded plastic chopping board kits and wondered what they are for.
In the UK at least, this is a relatively new introduction and should be used for preparing ‘free from‘ foods.
Foods such as gluten-free flour or bread mixes are required for people with gluten intolerance such as Celiacs. Alternatively, those with a lactose intolerance will require lactose-free dairy products.
As such, designated plastic cutting boards should ensure that there is no cross-contamination.
So there you have it, everything you should know about plastic chopping boards!
The bottom line is that polyethylene cutting boards are a solid and viable option, but only if you make the right choice. Hopefully, this has given you all the information you need so you can go out and buy with confidence.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments section below. Alternatively, you can always check out our blog where we cover a wide variety of topics to help you to get the right products for your everyday needs.
In the meantime, thanks for reading and stay Blade-Sharp!