Figure 13.4 Ethylene oxide is an alkylating agent. Like other alkylating agents, ethylene oxide affects the structure of both proteins and nucleic acids. Labile hydrogen atoms such as those on sulphydryl groups are replaced with a hydroxyl ethyl radical conditions become more favourable. A disinfectant is a chemical agent used to disinfect inanimate objects such as work surfaces and floors. In the food and catering industry, especially in the USA, the term sanitisation is used to describe a combination of cleaning and disinfection. Disinfectants are incapable of killing spores within a reasonable time period, and are generally effective against a narrower range of organisms than physical means. Decontamination is a term sometimes used interchangeably with disinfection, but its scope is wider, encompassing the removal or inactivation of microbial products such as toxins as well as the organisms themselves.
The lethal action of disinfectants is mainly due to their ability to react with microbial proteins, and therefore enzymes. Consequently, any chemical agent that can coagulate, or in any other way denature, proteins will act as a disinfectant, and compounds belonging to a number of groups are able to do this.
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