Immune perception of intestinal contents reflects a functional dualism with systemic hyporesponsiveness to dietary antigens and resident microflora (oral tolerance) and active immune responses to mucosal pathogens. This facilitates optimal absorption of dietary nutrients while conserving immunologic resources for episodic pathogenic challenge. Discrimination between dangerous and harmless antigens within the enteric lumen requires continual sampling of the microenvironment by multiple potential pathways, innate and adaptive recognition mechanisms, bidirectional lymphoepithelial signaling, and rigorous control of effector responses. Errors in these processes disrupt mucosal homeostasis and are associated with food hypersensitivity and mucosal inflammation. Mechanisms of mucosal immune perception and handling of dietary proteins and other antigens have several practical and theoretical implications including vaccine design, therapy of systemic autoimmunity, and alteration of enteric flora with probiotics.