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Apr 23, 2014

Cutting Through The Baloney: A Guide To Commercial Cutting Boards

Cutting boards and cutting surfaces are essential to the functionality of every kitchen; commercial kitchens, butcher shops, and even home kitchens require cutting boards to facilitate knife work properly.  Cutting boards are composed of various materials, all with their own upsides and downsides.  Let’s take a look at the primary materials from which cutting boards are fashioned, and then we will examine some factors to help you stock your operation with the cutting boards which will best fit.

Material:  Cutting boards come fabricated from numerous amounts of materials.  Each one has its pros and cons, and some are intended to be used in particular settings.  Here’s a list of the most common cutting boards on the market.

  • Plastic (Polyethylene) – The industry standard for commercial kitchens, high density plastic cutting boards are (usually) the least expensive cutting boards.  Though all cutting boards will somewhat take the edge off of a blade, plastic boards will do so slowly (they are about in the middle of the pack when it comes to keeping a knife edge).  Their biggest downside is that they can easily be cut or chipped; this can cause pieces of plastic to peel off and land in food or cause the board to house deposits of bacteria, fungus or other microorganisms.  Fortunately, plastic cutting boards are non-reactive, and can be treated with harsh sanitizing chemicals like bleach or disinfectants.
  • Wood – Wood cutting boards are fairly hard, but have some give and often can be “self-healing”; sealing up shallow cuts without any refinishing.  Wood cutting boards are porous and most have some antiseptic properties, which allows moisture to evaporate and helps the board naturally fight bacteria and mold.  It is important know the wood a cutting board is fashioned from, as some (especially trees which grow tree nuts) can contain allergens or toxins, and others may be too porous and will not meet some codes or ordinances.  The two most popular wooden cutting boards are usually made from maple or teak.  Wooden cutting boards should not be treated with chemicals other than mineral oils to prevent them from absorbing moisture, and should not be used for foods that may contaminate the board, such as raw fowl or pork.
  • Bamboo – Bamboo, contrary to popular belief, is not a wood; it’s a grass.  The heavy duty stalks of bamboo chutes fashion cutting boards that are harder than plastic, and only allow for very shallow cuts.  This prolongs the longevity of the bamboo boards, and since bamboo is naturally antimicrobial, they don’t necessarily have the problems that some variety of wood boards have.  Additionally, bamboo is a renewable resource, and can be harvested without killing the roots of the plant; a factor that has been driving the price down for these cutting boards.
  • Composite – There are a number of composite cutting boards starting to populate the market.  Composite boards are cutting boards made of heavy duty paper / cardboard pulp which are coated in a polymer resin to harden and bind them together.  They are softer than wooden cutting boards, but should be cared for much the same way.
  • Rubber – Rubber cutting boards are another relatively new style of cutting board that has been increasing in popularity, especially in areas that have strict health department standards.  Rubber cutting boards are non-porous, have good self-healing properties, tend to stick to countertops well, and are on par with wood or plastic boards at preserving a knife’s edge.  They can be treated with detergents and other disinfectant chemicals as well, and are rapidly becoming one of the go-to options for commercial operations.
  • Glass – Glass cutting boards are easily cleaned and disinfected, and are non-porous, however they can often damage knife blades.  They are also easy to break or chip, and though they can often be visually appealing, are not often found in a commercial kitchen.
  • Steel – Steel, like glass, is a material that is not often used in commercial environments because of the damage it can do to a knife blade.  Though durable and easy to clean, they seldom find their place in a commercial kitchen (unless it is for soft food items like butter or cheese).

Shopping:  When shopping for cutting boards, there are several important factors other than the material to examine before picking the right style to fit your kitchen’s needs.

  • Codes / Ordinances – There are varying codes or regulations in some areas that require cutting boards to carry certain approvals (NSF usually) or that they be made of a short list of materials.  Make a point to seek out all pertinent regulations and ordinances.
  • Number Of Cutting Boards / Colors – Many restaurateurs will often take precautions to protect their customers and purchase a number of different cutting boards for different food products to be cut.  More often than not (especially since in some areas it is required) restaurants will purchase different color cutting boards to designate what is to be cut on them.  There are commercial cutting boards in colors that match with industry standards (i.e. red for meat, blue for seafood, purple for allergen-free, etc.).  It is important for restaurants to purchase different color boards if required, and to have a number of different cutting boards for different facets of their operation.  This includes cutting boards for line cooks, prep cooks, carving stations, and even bartenders.
  • Size – The size of cutting boards should be appropriate to the size of items to be prepared on them.  Traditionally, restaurants will invest in cutting boards of varying sizes for their operation.  Bar cutting boards are usually small as they are mostly used to cut fruit, and cutting boards for food prep tend to be significantly larger as they will be used to cut larger food into smaller portions.
  • Underside – A relatively new trend is the non-slip cutting board.  Most of the time commercial cutting boards are used on stainless steel worktables and can slip or turn creating a potentially hazardous situation.  Many commercial operations have started investing in non-slip cutting boards or cutting board mats to keep them stationary on the stainless work surface and reduce workplace accidents.