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Food & Hygiene

Overview

Why is plastic good for food contact?

In today’s busy kitchens and food processing areas, appropriate food cutting, and preparation boards are an essential part of managing hygiene regardless of if it is a café, restaurant, or food manufacturing site. The main reason that plastic is food friendly is that it is waterproof. This avoids any absorption of water and fluids that can feed bacterial growth. Some plastics, however, do have harmful chemicals and pigments such as cadmium that are not approved for food contact, so the boards need to be approved for contact with food.

Another aspect of plastic that makes its use very practical in the kitchen is because of its readily available range of colours used as a coded system. Colour coded boards safeguard food hygiene an ensure raw and cooked foods do not transfer bacteria so preventing any cross contamination between foods and preparation areas. For example, raw and cooked meat are assigned different colours, fish another etc. The use of identifiable colours provides everyone with the ability to differentiate what food has been prepared in which area. This is seen as best practice when it comes to food hygiene in the workplace.

What types of plastic are suitable?

Food boards are made from three different types of polyethylene plastics: High molecular weight (HMWPE), high density polyethylene (HDPE) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE). All types of plastic boards are used widely by chefs. HMWPE tends to be more wear resistant to knives, remains flatter and is usually dish washer proof. It is used by most professionals and of course the most expensive. At the other end of the scale are the cheaper LDPE boards which, unlike HMWPE, are made by injecting plastic into moulds. Whilst this makes the boards cheaper to produce, the boards are more likely to warp and especially after putting into the dishwasher. In the past, the cheaper boards were seen as “disposable”, but in this era of reducing our carbon footprint, customers are looking for longer use of boards and therefore less waste.

HDPE sits in the middle both in durability and in price. They can be injection moulded or made in large sheets that are cut down to size. HDPE is harder than LDPE and is more durable and the sheet version is more resilient to knife scratches and warping. LDPE are however much lighter and easier to carry around, they can therefore be stored on smaller shelves.

Is a plastic board better than a wood one?

There are many discussions about this and hopefully we can explain much of the thoughts behind them here are some points to consider.

  • Colour coding is easily possible with plastic and chefs like to have this “system” in a busy and large kitchen where many different chefs are working and preventing cross contamination can be managed.
  • Wood makes a great shock absorber for heavy cleaver work or pounding. This prevents wear and tear of the elbow.
  • There are well written claims that many woods used for chopping boards contain natural tannins that kill bacteria. This means any food caught in small surface fissures or cracks will be prevented from growing bacteria whereas damaged (deep cut) plastic boards will not only hold small residues of food, but also tiny droplets of water that can aid bacterial growth. All boards need to be suitably sanitised after use.
  • Wood cannot be cleaned in a dish washer. 
Suitable Materials

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