Controlling Microbial Growth

It is very important to control microbial growth in surgical and hospital settings, as well as in industrial and food preparation facilities. There are many terms used to describe the fight to control microorganisms.

Sterilization is the destruction of all microorganisms and viruses, as well as endospores. Sterilization is used in preparing cultured media and canned foods. It is usually performed by steam under pressure, incineration, or a sterilizing gas such as ethylene oxide.

Antisepsis is the reduction of pathogenic microorganisms and viruses on living tissue. Treatment is by chemical antimicrobials, like iodine and alcohol. Antisepsis is used to disinfect living tissues without harming them.

Commercial sterilization is the treatment to kill endospores in commercially canned products. An example is the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism.

Aseptic means to be free of pathogenic contaminants. Examples include proper hand washing, flame sterilization of equipment, and preparing surgical environments and instruments.

Any word with the suffix -cide or -cidal indicates the death or destruction of an organism. For example, a bactercide kills bacteria. Other examples are fungicides, germicides and virucides. Germicides include ethylene oxide, propylene oxide, and aldehydes. For the same reason, these germicides are also used in preserving specimens in laboratories.

Disinfection is the destruction or killing of microorganisms and viruses on nonliving tissue by the use of chemical or physical agents. Examples of these chemical agents are phenols, alcohols, aldehydes, and surfactants.

Degerming is the removal of microorganisms by mechanical means, such as cleaning the site of an injection. This area of the skin is degermed by using an alcohol wipe or a piece of cotton swab soaked with alcohol. Hand washing also removes microorganisms by chemical means.

Pasteurization, as noted in Chapter 1, uses heat to kill pathogens and reduce the number of food spoilage microorganisms in foods and beverages. Examples are pasteurized milk and juice.

Sanitation is the treatment to remove or lower microbial counts on objects such as eating and drinking utensils to meet public health standards. This is usually accomplished by washing the utensils in high temperatures or scalding water and disinfectant baths. Bacterostatic, fungistatic, and virustastic agents— or any word with the suffix -static or -stasis—indicate the inhibition of a particular type of microorganism. These are unlike bactericides or fungicides that kill or destroy the organism. Germistatic agents include refrigeration, freezing, and some chemicals.

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