Microorganisms are living organisms that are individually too small to see with the naked eye. The unit of measurement used for microorganisms is the micrometer (µ m); 1 µ m = 0.001 millimeter; 1 nanometer (nm) = 0.001 µ m. Microorganisms are found everywhere (ubiquitous) and are essential to many of our planets life processes. With regards to the food industry, they can cause spoilage, prevent spoilage through fermentation, or can be the cause of human illness.

Scale showing the size of an animal cell, animal nucleus, yeast cell, virus, bacteria cell (rod) and bacteria cell (coccus)

There are several classes of microorganisms, of which bacteria and fungi (yeasts and moulds) will be discussed in some detail. Another type of microorganism, the bacterial viruses or bacteriophage, will be examined in a later section.