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Forum topic by Betsy posted 10-26-2015 02:19 AM 1196 views 0 times favorited 24 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Betsy

3338 posts in 3357 days


10-26-2015 02:19 AM

Topic tags/keywords: cutting board oak wisconsin study

I have always worked under the assumption (or maybe the myth) that Oak, with its large, open pores is not a good wood to use in an end grain board. The general assumption I think would be that bacteria would seep into those large pores and essentially become a breeding grounds for bacteria, smells, and other nasty little stuff you don’t want to come into contact with food. However, in the infamous University of Wisconsin study on how much longer bacteria can survive in wood cutting boards vs plastic cutting boards, they went in with the assumption that bacteria would survive longer on a wooden board as opposed to plastic or glass, but how long would it survive? As it worked out they found the exact opposite of their starting assumption. The essential paragraph is:

The scientists found that three minutes after contaminating a
board that 99.9 percent of the bacteria on wooden boards had died,
while none of the bacteria died on plastic. Bacterial numbers
actually increased on plastic cutting boards held overnight at
room temperature, but the scientists could not recover any
bacteria from wooden boards treated the same way.

So with that paragraph – why would oak with it’s large pores not be good for an end grain cutting board? I’m assuming that the scientific results would apply equally to any particular type of board.

And here’s the follow up question:

With all that said, if the pore objection is not longer a deterrent is there another reason to not use white oak (not sure how I feel about the look of red oak) in a cutting board?

What say you?

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine


24 replies so far

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Ocelot

1470 posts in 2099 days


#1 posted 10-26-2015 02:55 AM

That’s what I have read years ago The open pores help kill the bacteria.

That is one of the reason end-grain cutting boards (and chopping meat on an old stump) have been preferred.

http://www.rhtubs.com/wood-bacteria.htm

Of course, nobody has followed up on that 20-year-old research – probably because there is no money in it.

-Paul

[the first time I posted I didn’t read all of your post so had to edit to not look like an idiot.]

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Tugboater78

2446 posts in 1653 days


#2 posted 10-26-2015 02:58 AM

Wiah i knew for sure cause i have oak scraps out the wazzu to make cutting boards, but afraid to use.

-- "....put that handsaw to work and make it earn its keep. - summerfi" <==< JuStiN >==>=->

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lew

11336 posts in 3217 days


#3 posted 10-26-2015 03:16 AM

In my non-professional opinion, I think white oak would be preferable to red oak simply because the pores are not as long. Also, moisture trapped in the longer red oak pores might cause more warping.

Just my 2ยข

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

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Betsy

3338 posts in 3357 days


#4 posted 10-26-2015 05:48 AM

Thanks guys. I agree about white oak.


That s what I have read years ago The open pores help kill the bacteria.

That is one of the reason end-grain cutting boards (and chopping meat on an old stump) have been preferred.

http://www.rhtubs.com/wood-bacteria.htm

Of course, nobody has followed up on that 20-year-old research – probably because there is no money in it.

-Paul

[the first time I posted I didn t read all of your post so had to edit to not look like an idiot.]

- Ocelot

About the study – I’m going to ask my scientist geeky brother how to see if this study is still solid. Just like many principles in case law – some studies are still considered valid. I know how to find if s law case principal has changed but not a scientific study.

My feeling at this point is I’m going to use some white oak in some boards – I will let you all know what my brother says about the study.

Thanks for the input.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

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ellen35

2724 posts in 2894 days


#5 posted 10-26-2015 10:34 AM

Interesting… I sometimes use a piece of oak as a contrast in a board. Usually it is just a thin piece. I’d love to use more oak in boards. People always think that plastic or glass harbors less bacteria. Glad to be able to tell them that it isn’t so and back it up with scientific evidence.
Great thread!

-- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Voltaire

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WoodNSawdust

1417 posts in 638 days


#6 posted 10-26-2015 01:56 PM

I did a quick search for the original article in Science News vol 143 issue 6 and could not find it online. Anyone have a link to it? Or a copy where they could scan the article?

-- "I love it when a plan comes together" John "Hannibal" Smith

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splintergroup

827 posts in 684 days


#7 posted 10-26-2015 02:07 PM

Research aside, Lew made a good point about the pores. Red oak pores are like straws, they’ll siphon up any water and hold it (which means warping). White oak basically has the pores sealed (one of the reasons ship builders chose white oak over read oak).

That aside, I have often placed a red oak board in a pan of thinned poly and let the pores suck the poly completely through the board. This makes the board essentially water-proof.

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Yonak

979 posts in 982 days


#8 posted 10-26-2015 02:21 PM


I have often placed a red oak board in a pan of thinned poly and let the pores suck the poly completely through the board. This makes the board essentially water-proof.

- splintergroup

I wonder if this defeats the results of the study. Would putting plastic in the pores of red oak cause the bacteria to survive when it wouldn’t otherwise ? I agree that the long pores of red oak would keep the boards from drying out readily.

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Ocelot

1470 posts in 2099 days


#9 posted 10-26-2015 02:22 PM

The full text of the article is (I believe) in the link I provided above. I remember reading it in Science News back in the day. Unfortunately, all my science news mags got stored in boxes in my old shed. Subsequently, the roof leaked and they became moldy so I threw them out. (and tore down the shed and built my current shop.) If you are not familiar with Science News, it was a very slim (12 to 20 pages) weekly. It used to be my favorite reading. Every page a winner.

The theory that plastic must be better seems to be relatively untested. This article really stuck in my mind because it reminded me that science must rest on experiment and not only theory. The authors of the study did not find what they expected to find – what their theories predicted. Far too often when the experiment does not confirm the theory, the experiment or study is simply discarded. This is a dangerous bias in scientific endeavor.

[edit] In Engineering, we try to use fully characterized components so that we can very nicely predict the performance of the objects or devices we design. In the real or natural world, almost nothing we encounter can be fully and accurately characterized, so we must rely on experiment and study of real phenomena. Even in Engineering, nothing is considered complete until the thing has been thoroughly tested. Even designing with well-characterized components, there are elements of the real world that intrude – and characteristics of our components that are not fully understood. So, we must test. Theory without experiment and testing is detached from reality and not to be trusted. [end edit]

As for the scientific validity of the study; it looks reasonable to me. While it would be great to know the mechanism, the effect was clear. Meanwhile, health departments still require plastic or glass cutting surfaces in restaurants – with or without experimental evidence that this is safer than wood.

Our cutting boards at my house are even stained with mildew. I just give them a good scraping with a plastic scraper, then scrub with dish soap and a brush, rinse and let dry. I never oil them.

-Paul

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Yonak

979 posts in 982 days


#10 posted 10-26-2015 02:37 PM

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mramseyISU

419 posts in 1007 days


#11 posted 10-26-2015 02:48 PM

The other thing with the white oak is that it’s used in barrels for wine and whiskey aging. They do that because red oak will leak. Also I was always told when I was a kid in scouts that if you needed to get water out of a stream not to if there were red oak leaves in it because they are toxic. Not sure if that’s true or not but maybe it is.

-- Trust me I'm an engineer.

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splintergroup

827 posts in 684 days


#12 posted 10-26-2015 05:52 PM


I have often placed a red oak board in a pan of thinned poly and let the pores suck the poly completely through the board. This makes the board essentially water-proof.

- splintergroup

I wonder if this defeats the results of the study. Would putting plastic in the pores of red oak cause the bacteria to survive when it wouldn t otherwise ? I agree that the long pores of red oak would keep the boards from drying out readily.

- Yonak

Maybe, that is why I said “research aside…” 8^)

I believe wood has a number of anti-bacterial properties but most (commercial) wood cutting board materials are selected to co-exist with water. With the pore filling technique I vastly expand the wood species I can use and still expect a degree of robustness.

I also play CYA by stating that the boards I make/sell are “bread boards”, which implies they are not intended to get soaking wet.

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Jeremy78

11 posts in 409 days


#13 posted 10-26-2015 06:10 PM

At our shop, a few years ago for Christmas presents for employees and vendors we made a few hundred White Oak cutting boards. We finished them with standard mineral oil. The were not end grain though…...

-- If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right

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mahdee

3550 posts in 1229 days


#14 posted 10-26-2015 08:35 PM

Oak bark has been used for many years to tan hide. White oak bark has the highest tan as well as acid forming sugar.

-- earthartandfoods.com

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mpounders

821 posts in 2357 days


#15 posted 10-26-2015 08:39 PM

I have seen a few oak cutting boards and one issue that I have noticed, is that they may have a reaction with certain metals that cause black stains to appear. My daughter bought an oak cutting board in the shape of our state (Arkansas) and had used it only a few times before black stains, possibly from wet knives, appeared. I was able to use some oxalic acid from the paint store to bleach them away. Or it may have been from a cast iron skillet. Not sure but not what you want happening to your cutting boards!

-- Mike P., Arkansas, http://mikepounders.weebly.com

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