Enterococci are gram-positive bacteria and fit within the general definition of lactic acid bacteria. Modern classification techniques resulted in the transfer of some members of the genus Streptococcus, notably some of the Lancefield's group D streptococci, to the new genus Enterococcus. Enterococci can be used as indicators of faecal contamination. They have been implicated in outbreaks of foodborne illness, and they have been ascribed a beneficial or detrimental role in foods. In processed meats, enterococci may survive heat processing and cause spoilage, though in certain cheeses the growth of enterococci contributes to ripening and development of product flavour. Some enterococci of food origin produce bacteriocins that exert anti-Listeria activity. Enterococci are used as probiotics to improve the microbial balance of the intestine, or as a treatment for gastroenteritis in humans and animals. On the other hand, enterococci have become recognised as serious nosocomial pathogens causing bacteraemia, endocarditis, urinary tract and other infections. This is in part explained by the resistance of some of these bacteria to most antibiotics that are currently in use. Resistance is acquired by gene transfer systems, such as conjugative or nonconjugative plasmids or transposons. Virulence of enterococci is not well understood but adhesins, haemolysin, hyaluronidase, aggregation substance and gelatinase are putative virulence factors. It appears that foods could be a source of vancomycin-resistant enterococci. This review addresses the issue of the health risk of foods containing enterococci.