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Paul Hobbs, Principal EHO Horsham District Council

Last month I received an

enquiry from an EHO in Hampshire asking if there was guidance on how to clean a butcher’s block. He explained that he had done his own research; Unable to fi nd anything other than a plethora of opinions on the internet he turned to the Primary Authority for National Craſt Butchers, hoping that we would be able to assist. T is of course is one of

the very reasons why Central Government introduced Primary Authority, not only a resource for businesses to receive tailored advice but also to enable the EHO to be better informed about the business they are regulating. Interestingly although we

have developed Assured Advice on cleaning and disinfecting food surfaces, we have not, included anything specifi c to wooden butchers blocks. It got me wondering why this question has not been asked before. Perhaps it is because most EHOs accept that in the main, wooden blocks are only used for raw meat preparation and hence provide no real risk of cross contamination. It is also a known fact that the use of heavy cleavers to chop meat is safer on a wooden block as it absorbs vibration as the cleaver hits the block. Legislation does not

specifi cally exclude the use of wood in food premises however, it is generally accepted that

unsealed wood is not suitable for use in food premises except for certain circumstances. What the legislation actually states is that surfaces (including surfaces of equipment) in areas where foods are handled and in particular those in contact with food are to be maintained in a sound condition and be easy to clean and, where necessary, to disinfect. T is will require the use of smooth, washable corrosion- resistant and non-toxic materials, unless food business operators can satisfy the competent authority that other materials used are appropriate, Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 Annex II Chapter II Paragraph 1(f). T e Technical Manager at

NCB, Richard Stevenson and I have discussed the matter in detail and discovered that my EHO colleague was indeed correct. T ere is a plethora of opinions on the internet

material, the natural cellulose contained in wood actively destroys bacteria both on its surface and deeply embedded within its fi bres. Hardwoods in particular such as ash, beech, birch, maple and elm can not only resist micro-organisms but eff ectively have the ability to clean themselves. Other studies have compared plastic cutting boards to wood. T e results are largely contradictory and a lot seems to depend on whether the surfaces are heavily scored or not. T e Food Standards Agency

(FSA) 'GermWatch' campaign in 2008 stated that it is a myth that plastic chopping boards are more hygienic than wooden ones as there was no strong evidence that one type of chopping board is more or less hygienic than another, whether plastic, wooden, glass or even marble. What is important is that the

ready-to-eat meats directly on the wooden block surface during busy periods. Back in October 2014 Public

Health England undertook some research on behalf of our Primary Authority Partnership to compare several disinfectants commonly used by butchers to see how eff ective they were. T e disinfectant tests involved wood, glass and plastic. Surfaces covered with bacterial cultures of E coli O157 NCTC 13128 & E coli NCTC 9001 (indicator strain). T e results showed that wooden surfaces were not easy to disinfect and longer contact times were required to eff ectively remove E. coli however, aſt er 5 minutes contact time, the diff erence in effi cacy on wood compared to other surfaces was much less marked, and was not statistically signifi cant. So the question remains, how

do you clean a butcher’s block? Richard tells me that he has

researched this subject before but never found anything conclusive. When he has asked butchers in the past, he has received variable replies and you all seem to have diff erent favourite methods. T e Food Safety Authority

of Ireland (FSAI) state on their website that wooden chopping board use for food preparation is fi ne once kept in a clean and hygienic condition. T ey do give some advice on how to clean a wooden chopping board, although this is not specifi c to the butchers block: • Immediately aſt er each

T e issue with unsealed wood

is that it is porous and able to absorb moisture including meat juices such as blood. However, expert opinion suggests that bacteria from meat may be absorbed into the wood, but they cannot be recovered by normal swabbing methods. T is means that the surface of a dry block, free from other meat debris, is likely to have very few available bacteria on its surface. Some research suggests that

wooden boards are inherently antibacterial. As an organic

board is cleaned properly aſt er every use and is replaced if damaged, for example from deep cuts or scoring. T ey emphasise separate chopping boards for raw and ready-to-eat foods. Most butchers I know have

every intention to use the wooden block for raw meats only. T is is fi ne if managed correctly but I have witnessed occasions where a delivery driver placed ready-to-eat foods onto the surface of an empty clean block and I have seen food handlers quickly prepare

use, wooden chopping boards should be wiped down with a clean damp cloth to remove any remaining food debris • T e board must then be

scrubbed using a scrubbing brush, hot water and detergent. Rinse and dry thoroughly • To sanitise wooden

chopping boards use either coarse salt, neat vinegar or diluted chlorine bleach (according to manufacturer’s instructions). If salt is used, spread it generously across the board and scrub. If using vinegar


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