WOOD IS NOT WATERPROOF
Wood is an amazing material and for centuries has been used to build and create some beautiful and monumental things. The one thing that wood is not is waterproof! “But wood is used to create boats and dock structure” I hear you say, and you are very right it is but in all instance, it relies on the wood being saturated.
When wood is saturated it swells thus making a wooden boat water tight. As a child I saw a medium sized hardwood boat in the Scottish Highlands being filled with a hose, as an inquisitive 14 year I asked why and was told to make it water tight. With what I now know this makes perfect sense.
Wood and water go together is certain instances. Boats are always wet so never they never dry out, the huge legs of a wooden pier are so thick that even when the tide is out the wood a few milometers from the surface is still saturated.
The problems start when wood is exposed to water and then dried out rapidly. A food board that is 2 or 3 cm thick will not take kindly to an industrial dishwasher…
An industrial dishwasher is about the worst thing you can do to a wooden board, if there is anyone out there who tells you a wooden catering product is going to last being cleaned in the dishwasher I would recommend you question this, profusely! Not only does wood not like water, if you add heat and steam into the mix then you are really asking for trouble. An analogy I would use to describe this would be like putting someone who had very fair skin on a beach for a day with no shade or sun protection. You just would not do it. I would never put wood in a dishwasher.
CLEANING WOODEN BOARDS
So, this all comes down to oiling your boards regularly which I will go into a little further detail. If a board has been looked after correctly and oiled on a regular basis then it will be fairly water resistant (resistant not proof). Oil is hydrophobic and will naturally stop anything wet from passing through it.
Once a well-oiled board has been used you can simply run it under the tap and use a cloth or brush to remove any food residue and leave the board clean. I would advise that you refrain from scrubbing wood as you will lift the grain and this will then make the wood rough to the touch and could even cause it to splinter off.
THE DRYING PROCESS
This is as important as oiling in my opinion, when wood is wet it needs to be allowed to dry evenly. If you were to stack up 20 boards face to face in a warm kitchen environment the water will have nowhere to go other than into the wood itself. This is really what you do not want as this will cause the boards to bow and warp and if it is done repeatedly may even cause them to split.
The water needs to be allowed to wick from the surface of the boards evenly, I would always advise that they are stood on their end with space between each board for the moisture to disperse and air dry them out evenly.
You now have a nice clean evenly dried board it can be sprayed with a food safe anti-bacterial spray or wipe over with a cloth that has been coated with said spray. There is no right or wrong here. Again, once this has been carried out allow them to dry.
LOVE YOUR WOOD
Oil is a boards’ best friend and a board can never be over oiled.
There are lots of opinions and views on how this should be done and with what… This is how I would advise that you oil your boards and, drawing on my years of experience, what oil to use. Some people say that it is best to use a thin oil such as Tung or mineral oil. The thought process behind this is that a thin oil will penetrate the wood further than a thicker oil such a vegetable.
I disagree with this on wood that is used with food. A thicker oil will not penetrate as deep into the woods grain and therefore offer much more protection at the surface which is where it needs to be. The middle of a board will never need protecting at the core from steak juice if the surface is oiled, as the juice will not make it through. When you re-wax a wax jacket you do not wax the inside you apply the treatment to the outside.
At Oak&Ford all of our boards leave us ready for service. They are treated to two healthy lashings of vegetable oil and we do not scrub them completely dry as during the delivery process any residual oil will continue to soak into the wood surface further protecting the board.
All oil is hydrophobic and therefore if it is food safe you really can’t go wrong. We use vegetable oil as most kitchens will already have it so you will not need to buy an additional expensive oil, such as mineral oil at £10.00 for 500ml, which will not go far.
If your boards are used heavily oil them heavily. You are looking after your investment and they will continue to make you tasty food look beautiful.
WOOD VERSUS PLASTIC OR NYLON
Expert Dean O. Cliver, PhD from University of California, Davis, conducted research on the subject of wood versus plastic or nylon boards and found that wood cutting boards contained less salmonella bacteria than plastic. On wood cutting boards, the bacteria sank “down beneath the surface of the cutting board, where they didn’t multiply and eventually died off.” On plastic boards, however, bacteria got caught in knife grooves that were near impossible to clean out, whether the board was washed by hand or dishwasher. So while sparkling new plastic cutting boards might be easy to disinfect, any weathered plastic board will hold onto bacteria.
Opinions expressed in this piece are Richard Ford’s.