Because of the uneven distribution of fresh water in time and space, a large number of regions are experiencing water scarcity and stress. Membrane based desalination technologies have the potential to solve the fresh water crisis in coastal areas. However, in many cases membrane performance is restricted by biofouling. The objective of this review is to provide an overview on the state of the art strategies to control biofouling in spiral wound reverse osmosis membrane systems and point to possible future research directions. A critical review on biofouling control strategies such as feed water pre-treatment, membrane surface modification, feed spacer geometry optimization and hydrodynamics in spiral wound membrane systems is presented. In conclusion, biofouling cannot be avoided in the long run, and thus biofouling control strategies should focus on delaying the biofilm formation, reducing its impact on membrane performance and enhancing biofilm removal by advanced cleaning strategies. Therefore, future studies should aim on: (i) biofilm structural characterization; (ii) understanding to what extent biofilm properties affect membrane filtration performance, and (iii) developing methods to engineer biofilm properties such that biofouling would have only a low or delayed impact on the filtration process and accumulated biomass can be easily removed.