Is Your Plastic Chopping Board Shedding Tiny Plastic Particles into Your Food?

The sanitization of chopping boards is a hotly contested topic when it comes to food hygiene, as both plastic and wooden boards — the primary contenders — are prone to bacterial growth. Recent findings indicate that plastic chopping boards might be shedding microplastics. What level of concern is warranted?

A study from 2023 featured in the periodical Environmental Science & Technology uncovered that utilizing plastic chopping boards may generate between 1,536 and 7,680 tiny fragments of plastic, which might transfer to your food via your knife. Due to their diminutive size, microplastics can be easily ingested and have been known to build up within the human system, as per studies.

It’s logical to worry about the potential health implications over time, especially when you consider that “microplastics truly are omnipresent,” according to Mark Jones, a retired industrial chemist with a specialization in microplastics consulting, during a conversation with Yahoo Life. Besides chopping boards, he emphasizes that microplastics also slough off things like single-use water containers, garments, automobile tires, paints, and more.

Are plastic chopping boards a danger?

Plastic chopping boards represent just a fraction of the exposure to microplastics we face. In truth, each of us is already harboring thousands of microplastic particles internally. However, the lasting health consequences on humans remain unverified. “We are just beginning the examination of how these particles impact human health,” declares Tasha Stoiber, an expert scientist with the Environmental Working Group.

Yet, the detrimental effects of microplastics on ecology and animal life is well-supported by studies. For instance, they have been associated with potential cellular damage, oxidative stress, reproductive harm and hormone interference via endocrine disruption.

But the real predicament is assessing the degree of alarm warranted by the use of plastic chopping boards when, as Jones puts it, they are “simply a trivial element of the multitude of microplastics that inundate our bodies every day.” To offer a comparison, authors of a piece in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences assessed popular bottled water brands and discovered that a single liter of water held an average of 240,000 tiny plastic particles, significantly outstripping the amounts in the cutting board analysis.

Is it time to eliminate your plastic chopping boards?

Experts’ views on this matter vary. “Based on the present state of knowledge, I am not discarding my plastic chopping boards, as we lack rampant evidence of detrimental effects from plastics we might ingest,” states Jones. However, he qualifies his stance by mentioning, “The current lack of data on any health impact doesn’t guarantee there will be no issues arising in the future.”

Stoiber, who foregoes the use of plastic chopping boards, advocates for a more cautious approach: “We’re just scratching the surface in grasping the extent to which plastics are entering our bodies,” she points out. “The complete picture isn’t clear yet, but the evidence so far is troubling.”

Beyond the issue of microplastics, there are additional reasons to reevaluate your choice of chopping board. “Plastic can serve as a conduit for numerous chemicals you’d want to avoid — such as phthalates,” Stoiber points out. Phthalates are compounds used to extend the durability of plastics and may pose harmful effects. Additionally, plastic chopping boards are more susceptible to being a breeding ground for germs and are tougher to sanitize than wooden variants, according to Stoiber. The soft surface on plastic boards is prone to knife scars, which can quickly become unsanitary and “virtually impossible to clean,” she remarks. “That’s exactly why a plastic chopping board will never find its way to my kitchen.”

Moreover, plastic boards tend to have a shorter lifespan and are more inclined towards disposal compared to other types, leading to unsustainable practices, Stoiber notes.

What alternatives are available?

“Making any move to lower your plastic usage is beneficial,” Stoiber asserts. “Focusing on kitchenware is an excellent beginning point.”

She suggests choosing a chopping board of wood — robust wood species such as maple or bamboo are recommended options — or perhaps a stainless-steel one, both of which are tougher and less likely to develop cuts that can harbor bacteria. Regardless of your choice, ensure it is cleaned with dish soap and hot water after every usage. (Occasionally disinfecting chopping boards is wise, possibly with a diluted bleach solution — a mix of 1 gallon of water with 1 tablespoon of bleach — and then rinse thoroughly with water.)

Jones believes that the ideal board is one that hasn’t yet been invented: entirely impervious, antibacterial, and eco-friendly. “In an ideal realm, you’d have a glass chopping board coupled with a steel blade,” he envisions. “The steel wouldn’t be abrasive enough to scratch the glass, so it would remain scratch-free.”

If microplastics consumption is a concern for you, phasing out plastic chopping boards is a decent step, but it’s also prudent to evaluate the other, possibly more significant, plastic products used daily. For example, opting for a reusable stainless-steel water container with filtered water is “an effective method to reduce microplastic consumption,” she advises. She also warns against the use of plastic food storage and reheating containers, as heat can escalate the release of microplastics.

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