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Why are cutting boards color coded?

Cutting boards come in a variety of colors, and this color coding is an important safety measure. The color of a cutting board indicates which types of food it should be used for to prevent cross-contamination that can lead to foodborne illness. Understanding cutting board color codes can help keep your food preparation safe and hygienic.

Red Cutting Boards

Red cutting boards are designated for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. These proteins tend to harbor more dangerous bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli that can easily spread to other foods if a contaminated cutting board is used. Using a separate red cutting board helps prevent cross-contamination during food prep.

Red is used to designate raw meat boards because it is eye-catching and reminds cooks that only raw proteins should go on that surface. The bold color helps differentiate it from boards used for other ingredients. It’s easy to remember that the red board is for bloody raw meats only.

Yellow Cutting Boards

Yellow cutting boards are designated for raw poultry specifically. Even though chicken is a type of meat, it gets its own separate board. This is because raw chicken is well known to harbor Salmonella at a very high rate, so it warrants extra caution. Using a specially marked yellow board for chicken helps prevent Salmonella contamination.

The bright yellow color stands out as a reminder that the board should only be used for raw chicken. It differentiates the poultry board from the red meat board. The color yellow may also be chosen because chicken skin is yellow.

Green Cutting Boards

Green cutting boards are designated for fruits and vegetables. Produce tends to have lower risks of dangerous bacteria. But using a separate green board prevents possible contamination from proteins. It also prevents cross-contact for those with food allergies.

The green color represents vegetables and produce. It is also a neutral background that makes it easy to see and avoid any debris or dirt on the board. The green color stands out against fruits and vegetables.

Blue or White Cutting Boards

Blue or white cutting boards are designated for fish, baked goods and other ready-to-eat foods. The cool tones signify foods that are fully cooked or need minimal preparation. Using a separate board prevents possible bacteria from raw ingredients.

Blue or white provides a clean, sanitary look that pairs well with delicate foods like fish and breads. These colors are easy to keep looking clean for foods that need an extra level of care and caution against contamination.

Brown Cutting Boards

Brown cutting boards are designated for cooked meats. Once meats are fully cooked to safe internal temperatures, the risk of dangerous bacteria is greatly reduced. A separate brown board is useful to prevent recontamination from raw ingredients.

The brown color signifies cooked and browned meats with a delicious sear. It differentiates from the red raw meat board while still being a warm, meaty tone.

Separate Ingredient Boards Prevent Cross-Contamination

Using color coded boards for separate ingredients prevents cross-contamination in a few key ways:

  • Juices, debris and bacteria from raw proteins stay contained on their designated boards.
  • There is no transfer of allergens like between a fruit/veggie board and a wheat/dairy board.
  • Foods that need extra caution like ready-to-eat baked goods avoid contamination.
  • Cooked foods don’t pick up bacteria from uncooked boards.

If food was prepped on just one board, bacteria could easily spread from the raw chicken to the salad greens to the sandwich bread. Using separate, color-coded boards limits this dangerous cross-contamination.

Different Materials for Different Jobs

Cutting board materials also play a role in color coding:

  • Plastic – Usually white or red for raw meats. Durable and non-porous. Easier to sanitize than wood.
  • Wood – Usually brown or yellow for cooked meats and produce. Gentler on knife blades. More difficult to sanitize.
  • Glass – Usually green or blue for produce and breads. Provides smooth, sturdy surface. Not forgiving on knife blades.
  • Bamboo – Usually green or brown for versatile uses. Reusable and sustainable material. Gentler than glass.

The material plays a role in which types of preparation are suited to the board. Proper sanitizing is key no matter the material. But dense plastic is easiest, while porous wood requires more care.

Proper Cleaning and Sanitizing

Along with using separate color coded boards, proper cleaning and sanitizing is crucial. Here are tips for keeping cutting boards safe:

  • Wash boards vigorously with hot soapy water after each use.
  • Sanitize using a bleach solution or disinfectant.
  • Plastics can go in the dishwasher for a deep clean.
  • Let boards fully dry before next use.
  • Replace worn boards that develop deep grooves and cuts.
  • Use board conditioner on wood boards to seal pores.

Recommended Cutting Board Colors and Uses

Here is a summary of the common cutting board colors and their designated uses:

Board Color Foods to Use For
Red Raw meat, beef, pork, lamb
Yellow Raw poultry, chicken, turkey
White or Blue Fish, baked goods, ready-to-eat foods
Green Fruits, vegetables, produce
Brown Cooked meats

Keep Food Safe with Proper Board Usage

Always use cutting boards appropriately to prevent cross-contamination:

  • Use the designated board for the appropriate ingredient.
  • Never use the same board for raw chicken and greens.
  • Separate cooked hamburgers from raw hamburger patties.
  • Wash all produce even if using a designated fruit/veggie board.
  • Replace excessively worn boards regularly.

With the correct color coding and sanitizing, cutting boards can be used safely for food prep. Keep your boards in top shape and avoid cross-contamination to have clean, healthy meals.


Cutting board color coding is an important system for safe food preparation. The color of the board quickly indicates which types of food should go on its surface. This prevents dangerous cross-contamination that could lead to foodborne illness. Red is for raw meats, yellow for raw poultry, green for produce, blue for seafood and white for ready-to-eat foods. Proper cleaning and board replacement are also key. Following cutting board color codes, washing thoroughly, sanitizing and inspecting for damage helps keep food safe from contamination. With the right color coded boards and care, home cooks can safely prepare healthy, delicious meals for their families and guests.