Keep them sharp
Any knife, regardless of the price, works poorly if it is dull and is far more dangerous as staff will use greater force to compensate for lack of sharpness and run a higher risk of cuts. Make sure that your knives are well maintained by keeping them sharp by using stones, steels, electric sharpening appliances, calling in a mobile knife grinder or by taking them to a professional site (many cobblers and key cutters will also sharpen knives). As a rule of thumb if you can’t easily slice a tomato, and instead squish it, you really need to have your knives professionally sharpened.
If you are regularly using one butcher for all your meat then in my experience most of them will sharpen your knives for you when you need them, or at the least teach you how to do it yourself.
Alternatively learn how to use a steel (the round thing that you see in almost all knife sets). They are used to maintain an edge as you use the knife during food preparation. It helps to keep a good edge between the times that you have the knife professionally sharpened. Make sure that your steel has a large guard that prevents the knife from slipping towards your hand.
The sharper the blade the safer it will be to use, but if you feel uncomfortable at any stage in your food preparation you can wear a fillet glove. Sometimes called a chain mail glove, I have used a fillet glove for some butchery tasks, slicing and filleting fish or shucking oysters. You often see the staff at sushi bars using them. These gloves are designed to prevent the knife from slicing your hand. If you are afraid of working with knifes or want to protect yourself as you use or sharpen a knife or special cutting tool, wearing a fillet glove is an excellent safety precaution.
Storing knives safely
Store your knives properly, the last place you want to place sharp knives is in kitchen drawers and there are many different approaches to storing knives, but the one that I like is knife blocks, although if counter space is limited a magnetic wall rack is a perfectly acceptable alternative.
Of course once you have bought your knives you will need something to use them on. Wood is the traditional material for chopping boards, but lost favour in the 1990s when it was thought to be unhygienic. Plastic chopping boards became the recommended cutting surface. Current thinking has changed to believe that properly washed and sanitised, wood cube is a hygienic cutting surface.
Wood is the kindest material to the cutting edge of a knife, being a natural product that does not blunt the edge as quickly. Cleaning by washing in hot, soapy water and by using a sanitising spray. Heavy soil and scuff marks can be removed with a steel scraper.
Wood cannot be put in a dishwasher because of the porous nature of wood. Prolonged exposure to water will cause the wood to expand, then, when it dries it will contract. Continual submersion in water and drying will cause the wood to warp and split, water that is the enemy of wooden cutting boards, not the detergents used in the dishwasher.
To keep wooden chopping boards in good condition they need to be regularly scraped with a steel scraper and oiled. While there are special wood oils available, any kitchen cooking oil will waterproof the wood without the risk of contaminating food with the smell of pine or linseed.
Plastic is the most popular material for chopping boards. It is harsher on the edge of a kitchen knife than wood, but has the advantage of being able to be put through a dishwasher and is usually cheaper than wood.
Thin plastic chopping boards may be cheaper than thicker ones, but there is a strong likelihood that the heat of a dishwasher will cause a thin board to warp over time. This makes the board unstable to work on and a personal safety hazard.
Whichever type of board you use racks are available in which to store cutting boards in an upright position. This allows air to circulate around the board and aid drying.
Colour coded chopping boards
As with knives colour coding in chopping boards is a way of reducing the risk of cross contamination and is widely practised. This six colour system can be helped with laminated instruction sheets which show kitchen employees both in words and with pictures what food products should be cut on which coloured board. Suppliers of colour-coded cutting boards may offer these information sheets free.
While colour coding is a first defence line for good food hygiene, it is still good practice for a board to be washed in hot water and sanitised when a different food product of a similar type is being cut up on it. This is very important with raw meat products; for instance, since chicken needs thorough cooking and beef steaks cut on the same chopping board might be cooked rare the risk of cross contamination is increased.
While colour-coded boards are a help in food safety, white is the best colour for visually spotting food debris. It is possible to get white plastic chopping boards which have the colour coding on the edge of the board. For very food safety sensitive kitchens, knives are available with the same plastic colour coding in the handle.