Signature tagged mutagenesis is a genetic approach that was developed to identify novel bacterial virulence factors. It is a negative selection method in which unique identification tags allow analysis of pools of mutants in mixed populations. The approach is particularly well suited to functional genetic analysis of the gastrointestinal phase of infection in foodborne pathogens and has the capacity to guide the development of novel vaccines and therapeutics. In this review we outline the technical principles underpinning signature-tagged mutagenesis as well as novel sequencing-based approaches for transposon mutant identification such as TraDIS (transposon directed insertion-site sequencing). We also provide an analysis of screens that have been performed in gastrointestinal pathogens which are a global health concern (Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Helicobacter pylori, Vibrio cholerae and Salmonella enterica). The identification of key virulence loci through the use of signature tagged mutagenesis in mice and relevant larger animal models is discussed.