The antimicrobial properties of salt (NaCl) used for the preservation of natural casings were studied by investigating the survival of six bacterial species in natural casings at different water activity (aw) levels. Individual sheep casings were inoculated with ca. 10(5) colony-forming units (cfu) g(-1) of Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhimurium, Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens and 10(2)cfu g(-1) of E. coli O157:H7. The casings were stored at 20+/-1.5 degrees C in different brines and dry salt, giving aw-levels of 0.90 aw, 0.87aw, 0.85 aw, 0.83 aw and 0.75 aw. Samples were taken at day 1, 3, 6, 8, 13, 20, 27 and 30 after inoculation and the number of bacteria present was determined. Based on survival curves, death rates (day(-1)) were calculated to quantify the reduction in log10 cfu g(-1) per day. The influence of aw on death rates was higher for Gram-negative bacteria than for Gram-positive bacteria. The death rates were overall higher for Gram-negatives than for Gram-positives. No clear reduction in the survival of C. perfringens in relation to any aw level was observed in this study. These results indicate that the antimicrobial properties of salt used for the preservation of natural casings are sufficient to reduce the bacterial contamination (except for Clostridium spores) well below acceptable levels at a water activity level of 0.85 or lower during a 30-day storage period.