It has been stated that delay in operative repair of penetrating injuries to the gastrointestinal tract will result in a high rate of complications related to infection. To test this assertion, a group of patients with penetrating injuries to the colon were analyzed who had operative repair delayed (usually because of triage considerations) more than 6 hours after admission to the hospital. Nine hundred six patients who survived at least 48 hours after injury were divided into two groups. The immediate group of 769 patients was treated within 6 hours of admission and the delayed group of 137 patients was treated more than 6 hours after admission. The mortality for the immediate group was 4.0% vs. 1.5% for the delayed group. Colon-related infectious complications, defined as abscess or colon suture-line failure, occurred in 10% of the immediate group and 4.4% of the delayed group. To eliminate the effect of associated injuries, the group of patients with colon injuries only was analyzed separately. There was no mortality for 128 patients with colon injuries only operated on within 12 hours of injury, and the colon-related infectious morbidity rate was 3%. Eleven patients with colon injuries only were treated after 12 hours with a mortality of 9% and colon-related infectious morbidity of 18%. These data demonstrate that even patients with fecal contamination can have operative repair delayed for up to 12 hours without undue morbidity related to infection.