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The use of immunomagnetic separation (IMS) techniques has been reported to reduce the total test time, and improve the sensitivity, of microbiological tests done on foods. This approach is being adopted in epidemiological investigations into suspected foodborne outbreaks of Escherichia coli O157 infection and has gained acceptance by public health laboratories and the food industry. This study demonstrated the ability of a commercially available IMS procedure, Dynabeads anti-E. coli O157, to enable detection of a few cells of E. coli O157 in 25 g of inoculated minced beef, giving results 1 d earlier than a cultural analysis of similar sensitivity. With correct choice of enrichment broths, IMS may increase isolation rate of E. coli O157 compared to that obtained using conventional cultural methods. It is suggested that this may be due to an increase in relative concentration of E. coli O157 compared with the background microflora present in minced beef, which may reduce reliability of non-IMS detection procedures by masking or mimicking target cells on selective/differential solid media. The use of an immunoassay incorporating an IMS step, EHEC-Tek (Organon-Teknika), enabled detection of a few cells of E. coli O157 in 25 g of minced beef. Comparison of the IMS-ELISA with a standard ELISA procedure (Tecra) indicated the sensitivity of the latter system to be greater, perhaps resulting in the higher isolation rate. The use of a method to reliability isolate and detect extremely low levels of E. coli O157 in a food is necessary to aid reduction in the incidence of this most serious of foodborne pathogens.