Carnobacterium, a genus of lactic acid bacteria, frequently dominate the microflora of chilled vacuum- or modified atmosphere-packed meat and seafood. In this study Carnobacterium isolates were characterized by phenotypic and molecular methods in order to investigate the association of species and intra-species groups with distinct kinds of meat and seafood. Of 120 test strains, 50 originated from meat (beef and pork products, including 44 strains isolated during this study and 6 strains obtained from culture collections) and 52 from seafoods (cod, halibut, salmon, shrimps and roe products). In addition, 9 reference strains of Carnobacterium spp from other sources than meat and fish and 9 reference strains of lactic acid bacteria belonging to other genera than Carnobacterium were included. Numerical taxonomy relying on classical biochemical reactions, carbohydrate fermentation and inhibition tests (temperature, salt, pH, chemical preservatives, antibiotics, bacteriocins), SDS-PAGE electrophoresis of whole cell proteins, plasmid profiling, intergenic spacer region (ISR) analysis and examination of amplified-fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) were employed to characterize the strains. The numerical taxonomic approach divided the carnobacteria strains into 24 groups that shared less than 89% similarity. These groups were identified as Carnobacterium divergens with one major cluster (40 strains) and 7 branches of one to four strains, Carnobacterium maltaromaticum (previous C. piscicola) with one major cluster (37 strains) and 9 branches of one to four strains and Carnobacterium mobile (three branches consisting in total of 4 strains). Branches consisting of references strains of the remaining Carnobacterium spp. were separated from clusters and branches of C. divergens, C. maltaromaticum and C. mobile. Isolates from the main clusters of C. divergens and C. maltaromaticum were found both in fresh and lightly preserved meat and seafood products. High phenotypic intra-species variability was observed for C. divergens and C. maltaromaticum but despite this heterogeneity in phenotypic traits a reliable identification to species levels was obtained by SDS-PAGE electrophoresis of whole cell proteins and by ISR based on 16S-23S rDNA intergenic spacer region polymorphism. With AFLP, two distinct clusters were observed for C. divergens but only one for C. maltaromaticum. The two C. divergens clusters were not identical to any of the clusters observed by numerical taxonomy. A limited number of C. divergens and C. maltaromaticum isolates possessed a biopreservative potential due to their production of bacteriocins with a wide inhibition spectrum. This study serves as a base-line for further investigations on the potential role of species of Carnobacterium in foods where they predominate the spoilage microflora.