Allyl isothiocyanate (AITC), a natural compound in plants belonging to the family Cruciferae, has been shown to have strong antimicrobial activity in liquid media as well as in its vapor form. To understand its antimicrobial mechanism, AITC was tested for bactericidal activities to Salmonella Montevideo, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Listeria monocytogenes Scott A at different stages of growth and was compared with streptomycin, penicillin G, and polymyxin B, each of known antibacterial mechanisms. Bactericidal activities were determined by measuring bacterial viability and leakage of metabolites. To determine its effects on membrane permeability, beta-galactosidase activity was examined after exposure of E. coli K-12 strain 3.300 to the three antibiotics and to AITC. The two gram-negative bacteria, Salmonella Montevideo and E. coli O157:H7, were more sensitive to AITC and to polymyxin B than the gram-positive L. monocytogenes. AITC and polymyxin B were effective bactericidal agents to bacteria at all growth stages, whereas penicillin G and streptomycin did not exhibit bactericidal activity to stationary cells. High A260 and A280 values of cellular filtrate and beta-galactosidase activity were obtained after treatments of AITC and polymyxin B. These data indicated that AITC was most similar to polymyxin B with respect to its antibacterial effect on cell membranes and on leakage of cellular metabolites. Gaseous AITC caused metabolite leakages, measurable increases in 3-galactosidase activity, and reduction of viable bacteria. The effectiveness of AITC in inhibiting bacteria at all growth stages and its strong activity in vapor phase support its application in food preservation.