In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) definition of a biocidal product is one ‘which controls harmful or unwanted organisms through chemical or biological means’. Common examples are disinfectants, wood preservatives and insect repellents. In a food context, this refers to a class of, often chemical products, with activity that leads them to kill bacterial, viral or yeasts and moulds, which may cause, either a health concern to consumers or have a significant impact on product quality or shelf life. In this document, we will mainly focus on aspects related to food safety.

When we consider the moral and legal duty of any business, of whatever size or shape, producing food for sale to the consumer the fact that this food is safe and wholesome should be the first thing that comes to mind.  By food, in this article, we turn to the legal definition going right back to the Food Safety Act, 1990, ‘food means any substance or product, whether processed, partially processed or unprocessed, intended to be, or reasonably expected to be ingested by humans’.

Part of this maintenance, of the safety of food throughout any business, is the control of contaminants that may have a deleterious effect on the consumer, such as chemical residues, unintended or undeclared allergenic ingredients, physical contaminants or pathogenic micro-organisms.  In this information statement, we shall consider the techniques available to control the last of these, namely pathogens.

Biocidal products form an essential element of any well developed and implemented food safety management system, where the control of microorganisms is of concern.  The aim of this statement is to proceed from first principles, through usage scenarios, and the legislative aspects to the perceived future, in particular regarding chemical biocides.

The use of disinfectants in food operations is well established for the control of contaminants, such as bacteria, yeasts, moulds, and more recently viruses, with the SARS-CoV-2 viral pandemic commencing at the end of 2019.