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Key Tips for Cutting-Board Cleanliness

“Health departments are now very interested in how carelessness in a restaurant kitchen can get people sick,” observes Kevin Callaghan, chef and owner of Acme Food & Beverage Co., in Carrboro, NC. “And owners and cooks are, too.”

One place where carelessness exacts a toll? Cutting boards.

“Your professional kitchen needs more than one chopping board to avoid cross contamination and, eventually, food poisoning,” says James King, owner and operator of The Frying Scotsman in Portland, OR. And he ought to know. King cuts hundreds of pounds of potatoes for each lunch service in addition to all the fish for his fish and chips.

Key Considerations

Before selecting cutting boards, check with your local health department to verify the certifications required. Then purchase a selection of sizes for different uses. For instance, your bar may need smaller boards than the kitchen.

Although tempered-glass cutting boards and bamboo or butcher block options are popular for home use, most commercial kitchens use boards made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which come in a variety of colors, are easy to clean and inexpensive.

“Provided that the cutting board is certified to NSF/ANSI 2: Food Equipment, both wood and plastic versions would be acceptable for use in a commercial kitchen,” says Cheryl Luptowski, public information officer for NSF International, a food safety organization in Ann Arbor, MI.

Color Code Your Cutting Boards

According to King, one of the biggest mistakes made in the kitchen is “being haphazard about the materials you're cutting on boards, such as cutting vegetables after cutting raw meat.” To make it easier to keep boards safe, most restaurant kitchens use different colors for specific uses:

  • Green: Fruits & Vegetables
  • Yellow: Raw Poultry
  • Blue: Cooked Food
  • White: Dairy Products
  • Tan: Fish & Seafood
  • Red: Raw Meat

This system makes it easier to avoid cross-contamination, but it’s not foolproof. That’s why it’s critical to be vigilant about cleaning boards after each use. “The best policy is to wash the board in the sink immediately after use rather than leaving it out, especially in a busy kitchen,” King says.

Cleaning & Maintenance

“In our kitchen, when in doubt, wash it,” says Callaghan. “We clean and sanitize all the time.”

Luptowski suggests this procedure to ensure germs and other materials aren’t transferred to another food item or knife: “Cutting boards should be thoroughly washed in a sanitizing dishwasher — if dishwasher safe — or washed by hand in hot soapy water, rinsed and dried between each use. If washed by hand, cutting boards can be sanitized by flooding the surface with a mild bleach solution — ¾ teaspoon of liquid bleach per quart of water. Allow the solution to stand for several minutes, and then rinse with clean water before drying.”

Additionally, when boards become worn or develop deep grooves that can’t be easily cleaned, get them resurfaced or buy new cutting boards. Those damaged spots are safe havens for bacteria.

Establishing and enforcing cutting board procedures is a critical responsibility for every restaurant owner and chef. A little attention to detail keeps your food and your customers safe, and your eatery open for business.

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