Wood has some advantages over plastic: shallow cuts in the wood will close up on their own. Wood also has natural antiseptic properties.
Hardwoods with tightly grained wood and small pores are best for wooden cutting boards. Good hardness and tight grain helps reduce scoring of the cutting surface as well as absorption of liquid and dirt into the surface. Red Oak for example, even though a hardwood, has large pores so it retains dirt, even after washing, making it a poor choice for cutting board material. Wood boards need to be cared-for with mineral oil to avoid warping, and, like knives, should not be left in puddles of liquid.
Care must be taken when selecting wood, especially tropical hardwood, for use as a cutting board as some species contain toxins or allergens.
While plastic is theoretically a more sanitary material than wood for cutting boards, testing has shown that the softer surface of plastic boards scored by knives the results in grooves and cuts which harbor bacteria even after being well washed. However, plastic boards (as opposed to wood) allow for rinsing with harsh cleaning chemicals such as bleach and other disinfectants without damage to the board or retention of the chemicals to later contaminate food.
Plastic boards are usually called PE (shorthand for polyethylene = the material which the boards are made) Cutting boards.
A recent trend is the use of thick solid rubber pads as cutting boards popular in restaurant kitchens. They are roughly the same price as well-made wood boards, can handle chemical cleaners, and because they adhere more to the countertop or surface. Additional advantages include similar knife protection as plastic or wood boards, and an equal or less retention of moisture or bacteria.
Chopping boards made of glass, steel, marble or corian, which are easier to clean than wooden or plastic ones, will damage the edge of knives. We strongly recommend NOT using these types of surfaces.
Regardless of the material, regular maintenance of a cutting board is important.
Sanitation of cutting boards is a delicate process. Since bacteria can reside in grooves produced by cutting, or in liquids left on the board, it is advised to cut raw meat on separate cutting boards from cooked meat, vegetables or other foods.
A very dilute bleach solution is best for disinfecting cutting boards.
To remove odors, rinse the board and then rub with coarse salt and let stand for several minutes. Wipe board and then rinse clean. This procedure will also smooth out minor imperfections in the wood.
Wood boards should never be placed in the dishwasher, or left immersed for long periods, as the wood or glue may be affected.
A light food grade mineral oil is a good preservative for wooden cutting boards as it helps keep water from seeping into the grain. Alternatively, one may also use a food grade drying oil such as poppy seed oil, tung oil or linseed oil. The first two dry much faster than linseed. Note that most commercially available linseed and tung oil are not ood grade as they contain metallic driers. In general, edible savory vegetable or olive oils are not recommended because they tend to go rancid, causing the board to smell and your food to pick up the rancid taste.
Cutting boards should be treated when they start looking dry to prevent cracking, e.g., 4 to 8 times per year, depending on usage.
When heavily or deeply scored, wood or plastic cutting boards should be resurfaced as scoring can harbor bacteria, or mildew in the case of plastic boards. Wood can be easily resurfaced with various woodworking tools, such as scrapers or planes.
Sandpaper is to be avoided however, as it leaves residual abrasives in the surface, which will dull knives. Resurfacing a plastic cutting board is more difficult and replacing it is recommended instead.