Heterocyclic aromatic amines are sometimes formed during the cooking of muscle meats, and their mutagenic and carcinogenic effects are of potential concern in the aetiology of human cancer. In a large survey of the heterocyclic amine content of foods, fried or charbroiled hamburgers, fried chicken, chicken breast sandwiches, fish sandwiches and breakfast sausages were purchased from fast-food restaurants. At least three different chains were visited per product and samples from five stores from each chain were pooled. The solid-phase extraction and HPLC method was used to analyse pooled samples for heterocyclic amine content and mutagenic activity with the Ames/Salmonella assay. Samples were analysed in a blind study which also contained quality control samples of two types, one high and one low in heterocyclic amine content and mutagenic activity. Results from the fast-food products showed undetectable levels of heterocyclic amines in 10 of 17 samples and only low levels [< or = 1 ng/g total of 2-amino-3,8-dimethylimidazo[4,5-f]quinoxaline (MeIQx), 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine (PhIP) and 2-amino-3,4,8-trimethylimidazo[4,5-f]quinoxaline (DiMeIQx)] in the remaining samples. Compared with literature values based primarily on laboratory and home cooking conditions, fast-food meat products appear to contribute only a small percentage of the estimated daily dietary intake of heterocyclic amines.