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To oil or not oil Wooden Cutting Boards and other wooden implements

Should we be oiling our wooden tools, spoons, tool handles and cutting boards as well as many other wooden items?

If YES, what oils should we be using and if NO then why not??

@PhilT wrote in the topic https://choice.community/t/the-great-knife-debate/21226/9:

“Outdoorsmen and those who prize rust-able high carbon knives have long used various oils and polishes on their knives. It is an attention to detail most of us no longer worry about with our stainless varieties, but those with ‘the knowledge’ still do so. I consider them craftsmen who go the extra bit for perfection.”

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I am confused I thought we were talking about putting wax on a cutting board. Are you saying you wax your board that doesn’t need it like you oil your SS knives that don’t need it?

I stand corrected as that was the case. My bad for losing the plot but regardless outdoorsmen have taken care of their knives with oils and waxes for ages.

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Board cream uses bees wax and is a traditional treatment for timber cutting boards.

https://www.cuttingboard.com/how-to-oil-and-maintain-a-cutting-board/

It’s also worth noting that some of the harder grades of steel that are corrosion resistant are high Chromium low Nickel steels. Generically they are all marketed as ‘stainless steel’. Depending on how the knives are finished (passivated) and treated they can develop rust stains. The stains usually polish off. It’s wise to not store them in contact with other carbon steel items that can corrode.

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… indeed - and taken care of various timber components ranging from handles to boards with oils and waxes. I tend to leave my steel blade field knives such as the KA-Bar coated in olive oil which has served well for many years protecting against rust and when field dressing animals none of the animals I’ve queried have had anything bad to say about it. I don’t take that as tacit approval on their part, but it’s a start.

But this thread is about knives, so given the risk from a properly ‘bees-waxed’ cutting board is in my estimation about as terrifying as breathing lungfuls of country air contaminated with tulip fragrance, we should possibly continue on-topic :wink: (and resist any hayfever diversions as well, and the ones about the alleged health benefits of beeswax and more specifically honeycomb … and … I know, I’m as bad an OT fiend as anyone! :rofl: maybe we need a timber treatment thread?)

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But what does it achieve?

It actually seals the board against absorbing moisture and swelling at the joints where the slats of hard rock maple join .

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Further to what @vax2000 has indicated, washing of a wooden cutting board (or chopping blocks), the detergents also removes tannins and natural wood oils making the board more prone to splitting and surface deterioration (drying out, weathering, splintering etc). Using edible waxes (such a beeswax) or oils (such as these) will preserve the timber and maximise the boards life. In effect it works like paint on house’s exterior timber surfaces, where the paint protects the timber from the elements and increases longivity. Oils/waxes for cutting boards/blocks needs regular application as cleaning readily strips away the applied oil/waxes.

Sealing as indicated by @vax2000 also reduces the potential for the wood to be stained or for fluids from the food penetrating the wood. It also may prevent microbes contaminating the upper surface of the boards as well as it can provide a resistant/protective layer.

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The main board I use is solid timber, some kind of softwood, and has been in constant use for 45 years. It has never looked like splitting or cracking. I had to plane it a while ago as the centre was getting too dished from wear and you couldn’t cut properly on it. The surface was not cracked just eroded smoothly by millions of small invisible cuts. It is now a bit thinner but looks good for another 45 years. My second board is laminated hardwood and has only been in use about 35 years, it shows no sign of wear. Neither have ever been waxed or oiled.

Perhaps this does happen but is there any evidence that such protection makes a measurable difference to the health of the household? I draw a parallel to bactericidal surface sprays that remove 99% of bacteria on benches etc - which may well be true. I have not seen anything to say that this has any benefit to your health compared to normal cleanliness procedures.

A few articles from many choices that all advocate oiling Cutting Boards. My Dad also advised this for the boards he made for us (he preferred macadamia oil).

https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-oil-and-maintain-a-wooden-cutting-board-lessons-from-the-kitchn-195642

My Dad actually oiled all his wooden tools as did my G’father and my many Uncles who worked as Carpenters and Builders. Linseed was used on them and it was done to stop warping, cracking and to preserve the wood. This tool list includes levels, scribers, planes, saw handles, hammer handles, chisel handles, and the saw horses.

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There is some evidence that raw wood chopping boards can increase the risk of cross contamination between foods…

Sealing a wooden cutting board reduced the boards surface porosity by filling the pores with relatively inert oil/waxes and its ability to absorb food juices. Most oils and waxes are hydrophobic, meaning they will repel water based solutions rather than absorbing them.

When at university our microbiology lecturer who specialised in animal/meat processing suggested that one board is used for raw/uncooked meats and another for everything else to reduce the risk of meat borne pathogens cross-contaminating raw and fresh foods.

Heeding his advice, we have a special cutting board in the kitchen used specifically for uncooked meats. Another used for everything else.

Do we wax/oil?..no, as we use a two board system to mitigate the risk. If we only had one board, it is something we would definitely consider.

As wood cutting boards are relatively cheap, we aren’t concerned about a potential reduction in board life.

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There are lots of similar articles, it is part of the canon for foodies today. Some of the pro-oil lobby sell board oil, others pass it on as received wisdom from old cooks. They may be right. Or not. Unlike the question of wood versus plastic boards there does not seem to be any studies available on either the cracking or health issues re oiling.

On the two (or more) boards for different boards if I was in a commercial situation or anywhere that a board could be left with meat juice on it I would adopt the system. As it is my board is very carefully scrubbed, rinsed and dried after any protein is put on it. This system has served me well for a long time.

On contamination I have a little story. All true and it happened to me. I had just finished doing a big banquet for a charity do and I was tired and frazzled and looking forward to sitting down for my dessert and a glass of wine. I realised that I had served the dessert without the garnish, which was sliced feijoa (pineapple guava). So got the dish of sliced fruit and went round the room and offered it to those who wanted some but I had forgotten the serving spoon. Most took some, a few refused as they didn’t like feijoa, or wouldn’t try it, but one looked at me askance serving with my fingers. He diffidently said he would like some but only if I got a spoon. So I got the spoon and he was pleased. I then mentioned that if my standards of food slicing and hand washing were not up to scratch he and the all the rest were going to be very ill the next day as I had personally caressed everything in every dish. He looked like he might not eat his dessert but I said he may as well risk it as he had already eaten the rest.

This is not to say that no wooden implements benefit from oiling or that all wooden implements benefit from oiling. On cutting boards I am forced to leave it as an open question until better data is available.

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Scrub with salt to clean instead of using detergent, and oil to nourish and protect. It improves the look and life of the timber.

My husband’s (a timbercraft professional) preference for chopping boards is mineral oil because it’s cheap and doesn’t go rancid. Beeswax needs to be applied and polished off for a good look, but oils are a rub on-rub off deal so easier to do over to long term and give a warm matte finish opposed to the glossier look of waxes. For our unsealed timber bench and dining table tops we use a proprietary brand of kitchen timber oil from Bunnings.

They might look and work fine if you never oil them, but kitchen timber that is properly cared for develops the most beautiful patina over time and looks better and better as it ages. For cheap boards probably don’t bother, but if you’ve shelled out for something gorgeous, treat it well and you will love it forever :slight_smile:

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The real issue with all cutting boards is that the small cuts allow food particles to enter the cut and under the right conditions these particles create what we term a “micro climate” for bacterial growth. Cutting boards can sit around the kitchen for some time before they get washed. As you all are aware some foods propagate bacteria better than other foods. Similarly some foods allow seriously harmful bacteria to grow. This is why we are warned about cross contamination with meat and vegetables. When using a board to cut raw meat you should follow a specific cleaning protocol afterwards.
A wooden cutting board is sealed mainly to preserve the timber and make it “look good”. Before a board is sealed it should be meticulously cleaned to remove any in-ground food. The sealing material should be reapplied regularly.
Unfortunately sealing a cutting board does not guarantee food safety because the next knife cuts immediately re-create the problem.
There is a balance between having a good looking wooden cutting board and having a hygienic cutting board. In our house I insist on putting them into the dishwasher. Ok, that eventually destroys the board but what price do you pay for health safety? We cut meat on the high density plastic boards and they always go into the dishwasher after use.
Sure, those big wooden cutting/chopping boards won’t fit in the dishwasher but the user must find his own balance between hygiene and aesthetics. It is possible to safely sanitise a large cutting board. Butcher shops do this successfully. The impervious boards such as glass and ceramics can be easily cleaned but like everything in life there is a trade off. The issue there is they dull your knives.

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The last time I watched this done the block was scrubbed hard with stiff brushes (wire I think) with some kind of liquid cleanser, dried and dusted with powder which I assume was antibacterial. I assume they clean off the powder next morning. Any butchers around able to tell us how it is done and if that suits the domestic situation?

I find it simplest to wash the board as soon as I am finished doing the meat and not let it dry or congeal.

I use light olive oil

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Read somewhere the enzymes in timber boards sanitises the surface hence no germs. Can’t remember where. It was years ago probably the Sunday Times in the UK over 30 years ago

I also recall reading something many years ago, but the current thought is wood can harbour microbes which can have health consequences. Maybe when wood is smooth, new and full of oils, tannins etc may be some microbial benefits, but as these are washed out of the wood and the boards cutting surface becomes more open, the natural benefits may diminish. Add in grooves from sharp knifes which can fill with food residues.

It is worth noting the US FDA recommends replacing cutting boards, including wooden ones, regularly and when they show any wear to prevent cross contamination of fresh and cooked foods. It also says “Nonporous surfaces are easier to clean than wood.”

https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/cutting-boards-and-food-safety

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I sand my wooden boards when the surface needs it, followed by oiling. Hard to distinguish from new.

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All I can say is . Never had food poisoning, owned plastic boards which discolour in a few washes. Colour = food contamination. So my personal preference is wood, natural cheap and non contaminating. Oh look some research here
Or a shorter version below
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12199

https://www.rowandsons.co.uk/blog/myth-fact-antibacterial-properties-wood/

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