Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter jejuni are bacterial pathogens commonly implicated in foodborne illnesses. Generally used detection methods (i.e., culture, biochemical testing, ELISA and nucleic acid amplification) can be laborious, time-consuming and require multiple tests to detect all of the pathogens. Our objective was to develop rapid assays to simultaneously detect these four organisms through the presence of antigen or DNA using the Luminex LabMAP system. For nucleic acid detection, organism-specific capture probes corresponding to the 23S ribosomal RNA gene (rrl) were coupled covalently to LabMAP microspheres. Target molecules included synthetic complementary oligonucleotides and genomic DNA isolated from ATCC type strains or other well-characterized strains of each organism. Universal PCR primers were designed to amplify variable regions of bacterial 23S ribosomal DNA, yielding biotinylated amplicons of 86 to 109 bp in length. Varying quantities of targets were hybridized to the combined microsphere sets, labeled with streptavidin-R-phycoerythrin and analyzed on the Luminex(100) system. Results of nucleic acid detection assays, obtained in 30 to 40 min following amplification, correctly and specifically identified each bacterial species with a detection sensitivity of 10(3) to 10(5) genome copies. Capture-sandwich immunoassays were developed with organism-specific antibodies coupled to different microsphere sets. Microspheres were incubated with organism-specific standards and reactivity was assessed with biotinylated detection antibodies and streptavidin-R-phycoerythrin. In the immunoassays, microsphere-associated fluorescence was organism concentration dependent with detectable response at < or = 1000 organisms/ml and with no apparent cross-reactivity. We have demonstrated that the Luminex LabMAP system is a rapid, flexible platform capable of simultaneous, sensitive and specific detection of pathogens. The practical significance of this multiplexing approach would be to provide more timely, economical and comprehensive information than is available with conventional isolation and identification methodologies.