People have a fascination with wood. We admire the beauty of wooden tables and furniture. Our love for wood is not just aesthetic. Wood is also very practical for many uses.
In recent years some have criticized things made of wood, including furniture and toys, as a source of bacteria. The US Department of Agriculture recommended the use of plastics rather than wood for this reason. They claimed that non-porous surfaces like plastic would be less likely to hold bacteria and would be easier to keep clean and germ free. Also, they argued, since plastics were synthetic they would tend to kill bacteria. However, studies showed that pathogens prefer plastics.
Microbiologists at the University of Wisconsin in Madison were trying to find decontamination techniques that would make wood as safe as plastic. What they found was that, if they inoculated wooden boards with either salmonella, listeria, or E.coli (all food poisoning agents) 99% of the bacteria died. When the bacteria were put on plastic, none of them died. Left overnight, the plastic bacteria multiplied and none were found on the wood.
When they inoculated plastic and wood on three consecutive days and left them unwashed and at room temperature, the wood had 99.9% fewer bacteria than had been placed on it. At the same time in the words of the experimenter “the plastic boards were downright disgusting.” Wood has anti-bacterial properties that are not found in any man-made material. The researchers tested maple, birch, beech, black cherry, basswood, butternut, and American black walnut with the same results. It did not seem to matter whether the wood was new or old.
The U.S.D.A. officials said that their recommendation of acrylic or other non-porous materials was based on common sense and not scientific data. In this case, when the scientific data came in, common sense was shown to be wrong. It also appears that the Designer of wood knew what he was doing.
Science News, February 6, 1993, pages 84 - 85
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