What's the best way to clean a stained cutting board?

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We recently had our hoods cleaned, and I took the opportunity to dip our nasty plastic cutting boards in the acid bath. It worked like a charm to brighten them, and then I ran them through the dishwasher. But is that the safest method?

– Chef, Las Vegas


This is an easy one. While I have no doubt that the chemicals used to degrease the hood were effective in removing stains from your cutting boards, they were almost definitely not food safe. In cleaning, it is important to distinguish between food-contact surfaces and other kitchen surfaces. There is more latitude in the types of cleaning products that can be used for non-food-contact surfaces such as ovens, floors and hoods. For food contact surfaces like cutting boards, there are only three sanitizing solutions that are approved for use in your (and most) municipalities:

•    Chlorine (bleach). Concentration: 50 to 100 ppm. Chlorine-based sanitizers are the most commonly used sanitizers.
•    Quaternary ammonia (QUAT, QAC). Concentration: Per manufacturer's instruction. 
•    Iodine. Concentration: 12.5 to 25 ppm.

With these and any other cleaning chemicals, it is important to follow manufacturer’s instructions to ensure that both the chemical itself and the concentration/dilution is approved for use on food-contact surfaces. The risk of not doing so is that even after rinsing, chemical residues can remain on the surface and in the pores and cracks of the cutting board, increasing risk of chemical contamination.

Here, it is important also to distinguish between cleaning and sanitizing. Plastic cutting boards discolor and look unappealing over time, taking on general discoloration as well as a rainbow of stains such as yellow and green from chopping herbs, reds and browns from carrots and beets and so on. This discoloration is especially a problem at a chef’s counter or open kitchen where a guest might view a stain as dirt. However, it is possible that a stained cutting board can be properly and thoroughly cleaned and sanitized despite the discoloration.

I asked Steve Ziegler, product expert for WebstaurantStore, if he had any words of wisdom for safely removing cutting board stains. “I don’t have any way of preventing stains, other than not cutting foods that stain. However, we do have ways of dealing with stains. First and foremost, cutting boards have become very inexpensive over the years, so if there are heavy cut marks and staining, consider replacing. … The next thing you could try, if you’d rather not replace, is using an oxygen-based cleaner like our Oxy Dip, which some of our customers report works well on cutting boards. … And finally, one way that will rid you of stains and knife marks is using a cutting board refinisher. This takes some elbow grease, but it is a tried and true method.”

My advice is to go with the refinisher. It keeps cash in your account, is more sustainable than ditching your old ones and reduces the type and number of chemicals in your operation. As always, local codes vary, so check with your health department that your cleaning regimen is compliant.

More on cutting board sanitation here

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