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Controlling Growth with Chemical Agents
©2000 Kenneth Todar, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Antimicrobial agents are chemicals that kill or inhibit the growth microorganisms. Antimicrobial agents include chemical preservatives and antiseptics, as well as drugs used in the treatment of infectious diseases of plants and animals. Antimicrobial agents may be of natural or synthetic origin, and they may have a static or cidal effect on microorganisms.
Types of antimicrobial agents
Antiseptics: microbicidal agents harmless enough to be applied to the skin and mucous membrane; should not be taken internaslly. Examples: mercurials, silver nitrate, iodine solution, alcohols, detergents.
Disinfectants: Agents that kill microorganisms, but not necessarily their spores,not safe for application to living tissues; they are used on inanimate objects such as tables, floors, utensils, etc. Examples: chlorine, hypochlorites, chlorine compounds, lye, copper sulfate, quaternary ammonium compounds.
Note: disinfectants and antiseptics are distinguished on the basis of whether they are safe for application to mucous membranes. Often, safety depends on the concentration of the compound. For example, sodium hypochlorite (chlorine), as added to water is safe for drinking, but "chlorox" , an excellent disinfectant, is hardly safe to drink.
Common antiseptics and disinfectants and their uses are summarized in Table 2.Table 2. Common antiseptics and disinfectants
Preservatives: static agents used to inhibit the growth of microorganisms, most often in foods. If eaten they should be nontoxic. Examples; calcium propionate, sodium benzoate, formaldehyde, nitrate, sulfur dioxide. Table 3 is a list of common preservative and their uses.Table 3. Common food preservatives and their uses
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