The dietary constituents that may act, in the broadest sense, as co-factors to enable bacterial enteropathogens to replicate in gastrointestinal environments are still largely unknown. Recent work has demonstrated that certain non-nutritional components of food, such as the catecholamines, can contribute to the ability of Gram-negative pathogens to replicate in iron-restrictive media that may be reflective of gastrointestinal environments. The present report examines whether other, non-catecholamine, dietary catechols, which occur widely in plant foods, can also influence enteropathogen growth in an iron-restrictive environment such as might be found in the gastrointestinal tract. In the present study, we have examined the ability of a range of catechol-rich foodstuffs, ranging from beverages (tea and coffee) to fruit and vegetable extracts, as well as purified preparations of commonly consumed dietary catechols (catechins, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid and tannic acid), to modulate the growth of the Gram-negative enteric pathogens Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella enterica SV Enteriditis. Time-dependent growth in response to dietary catechols (0.05-5.0% v/v of beverage or fruit/vegetable extracts; 10-200 microM of purified catechols) was examined in an iron-replete, rich medium as well as in an iron-limited, basal medium designed to reflect the iron-restricted environment that is more characteristic of human and animal tissues. Results obtained in iron-replete, rich medium demonstrated dose-dependent bacteriostatic effects for certain catechols, consistent with previous studies. However, in iron-restricted medium, all of the dietary catechols produced marked growth stimulation of up to 4 logs greater than non-supplemented controls. Mechanistic studies measuring the uptake of radiolabelled (55)Fe from (55)Fe-labelled lactoferrin and transferrin in bacteria grown in the presence or absence of dietary catechols demonstrated that the ability of catechols to stimulate bacterial growth was dependent on the provision of iron from iron-sequestering glycoproteins. Urea gel analysis of transferrin incubated in the presence of the dietary catechols confirmed that these compounds were directly chelating and removing transferrin-complexed iron. Analysis using E. coli O157:H7 entA and tonB mutants further showed that a functional siderophore synthesis and uptake system was required for the growth-stimulatory response. In contrast to previous studies, which have reported the anti-microbial activity of dietary catechols, the present study demonstrates that these non-nutritional components of foods can, under iron-restrictive conditions, provide iron and enable the growth of enteric bacterial pathogens.