Curious if gluten can linger on a cutting board? And is there less risk of gluten contamination if the food is prepared on a wooden vs. plastic cutting board? I address these questions and more to help you assess the risk and protect yourself. This post contains affiliate links. Please read my disclosures.
A medically-necessary gluten-free diet can turn one’s life upside down. People with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity must be vigilant about anything that comes in contact with their mouths and, therefore, could become ingested.
People with gluten disorders may feel like they’re not doing enough to protect themselves. They have to worry not only about hidden gluten in their food but also in makeup and skincare products, medicines, toothpaste, and airborne gluten.
On top of it all, people on a medically necessary gluten-free diet must protect themselves against accidental gluten exposure that comes from what is known as gluten cross-contamination. This occurs when a person prepares a gluten-free meal using gluten-free ingredients, but somewhere along the line, the gluten-free food comes in contact with hands or surfaces contaminated with gluten.
The most significant risk of gluten cross-contamination comes when food is prepared in non-dedicated gluten-free kitchens, such as at restaurants or a friend’s house, using shared appliances, tools, and surfaces.
While the cutting board poses a gluten cross-contamination risk, is that risk enough to cause worry? And can people with gluten disorders eat food prepared on a shared cutting board?
Are Cutting Boards Hot Spots for Hidden Gluten?
Unfortunately, no research exists on whether cutting boards cause a risk of gluten transfer significant enough to create worry in the gluten-free community.
However, commonsense tells us that knives create grooves in cutting boards, and gluten crumbs or soy sauce marinades can make their way inside those nooks and crannies.
While there is always a small risk of gluten transfer, and the gluten-free community should always be vigilant, a clean cutting board likely poses a small risk of gluten cross-contamination, and people in the community must weigh this potential risk with their mental health (i.e., the freedom to eat outside of the home).
If a trace amount of gluten were transferred from a clean cutting board to a piece of food, it could be less than the threshold amount (10 gm) of gluten a person with celiac can safely consume in one day. If a gluten-free person consumed 300 grams of gluten-free foods containing 20 ppm of gluten in one day, they would safely remain under the gluten threshold (10 mg) known to lead to intestinal damage.
Of course, a cutting board that hasn’t been cleaned properly between uses poses a huge threat to the gluten-free community, such as a cutting board used to cut sandwiches in a busy restaurant.
Again, while the gluten-free community should be vigilant about how their food is prepared, the risk of gluten transfer from a clean cutting board washed with soap and hot water is low. Most experts say the greater health concern is that cutting board harbor bacteria that can lead to food-borne illnesses.
Are Plastic Cutting Boards Less Likely to Harbor Gluten?
Many people in the gluten-free community have switched to nonporous plastic or acrylic cutting boards, thinking they are less likely a source of gluten contamination than wooden cutting boards. While plastic and acrylic cutting boards are easier to sanitize, researchers found they’re not necessarily the “safer” option when it comes to harboring foodborne illnesses.
According to this study, both plastic and wooden cutting boards contain grooves where bacteria, such as Salmonella, Listeria, and Escherichia coli, can grow (and potential gluten can hide).
In a widely-publicized study, researchers from the University of Wisconsin suggested that wood inhibited the growth of bacteria and concluded that wooden cutting boards were the “safest” to use.
However, the FDA debunked these claims and found that the tiny cracks in the wood easily absorb bacteria. If these grooves are not adequately cleaned, they could contaminate other foods prepared on the cutting board.
Some people use bamboo cutting boards, and, according to the USDA, bamboo cutting boards are harder and less porous than hardwoods, so they absorb less moisture and resist scarring from knives where bacteria like to hide. However, other experts recommend against using bamboo boards because they splinter easily and become fuzzy over time, which can attract bacteria.
Cutting Board Etiquette
All cutting boards, regardless of material, pose a low risk of gluten cross-contamination and a high risk of bacteria contamination. To lessen such risks, consider the following cutting board etiquette:
(1) Use Commonsense: Always wash hands and surfaces before handling gluten-free food. Good hygiene will almost always limit potential gluten exposure above the 20 ppm gluten threshold set by the FDA. Most cutting boards, when washed with soap and water, will be safe for preparing both gluten and non-gluten-free foods.
(2) Maintain Separate Boards: It’s always vigilant to maintain a dedicated gluten-free cutting board if possible, especially if you’re sharing your kitchen with people who may not be as concerned about kitchen hygiene. Consider using different shaped or colored cutting boards to help you easily distinguish between the two boards. Also, consider maintaining separate cutting boards for preparing raw meats vs. produce, bread, and cheeses if possible.
(3) Properly Wash and Sanitize Your Cutting Board: Sanitize your cutting board after every use with hot, soapy water. Acrylic cutting boards can be placed in the dishwasher. All cutting boards need to fully air-dry before putting them away.
To sanitize plastic and wood cutting boards after they’ve come in contact with raw meat, dilute one tablespoon of chlorine bleach in one gallon of cold water and apply it to the cutting board, then rinse the board well with warm water.
Do not soak wooden cutting boards. Prolonged moisture will cause wooden boards to crack, warp, and rot from within.
(4) Replace Cutting Boards Often: Cutting boards are not meant to last forever. When it looks dingy, excessively scratched up, warped, or discolored, replace it.
(5) Don’t Forget Sponge Etiquette: A sponge used to clean a cutting board can soak up the bacteria and transfer it from your sponge to other parts of your board or surfaces. A sponge can also transfer gluten bits from one item to another. Be sure to thoroughly wash your sponge between uses. It can also be washed in your dishwasher. And, like the cutting board, discard the sponge when it starts to look dingy.
A cutting board can pose a small risk of gluten transfer; however, the risk is low if a cutting board is properly cleaned between uses. Of greater concern is the risk of lingering bacteria and foodborne illnesses. People with gluten disorders should carefully weigh the risk vs. reward when eating food prepared on shared surfaces.
Good For You Gluten Free says
Thank you. I don’t know if there are any easy ways to test a surface for gluten at home.
Sarder Tajul Islam says
This blog provides useful insights for people with gluten disorders on how to protect themselves from accidental gluten exposure.” Although the risk of gluten cross-contamination from a clean cutting board is low, grooves in cutting boards can harbor gluten crumbs, making a trace amount of gluten transfer possible. Therefore, cutting boards should be cleaned properly and sanitized after each use. “Is there a way to test for hidden gluten on cutting boards, and what should one do if gluten is found?
Jill Kostrinsky says
I use a dedicated dinner plate each day as a cutting board. I wash it between meals, put it in the dishwasher at the end of the day, and use a different plate the next day.
Meg Mayo Lucas says
I’m questioning the FDA statement that a person can eat 300 mg of a 20ppm food safely. Isn’t 300 mg tiny – like the amount in a a medical pill? Maybe it’s 300 grams?