The history of the development of selective media for isolation of campylobacters, including the rationale for choice of selective agents is described. Developments have included modifications to allow incubation at 37 degrees C instead of 42 or 43 degrees C and changes in the types and concentrations of antibiotics in order not to inhibit organisms such as Campylobacter upsaliensis, C. jejuni subsp. doylei and some strains of C. coli and C. lari. When examining foods, plating media originally developed for isolation from faeces are normally used, sometimes after liquid enrichment. Most of the media include ingredients intended to protect campylobacters from the toxic effect of oxygen derivatives. Most commonly used are lysed or defibrinated blood; charcoal; a combination of ferrous sulphate, sodium metabisulphite and sodium pyruvate (FBP); and haemin or haematin. To date no medium includes an indicator system--for instance a pH indicator to show whether colonies produce acid or alkali from particular substrates. The manner in which liquid enrichment media are used has been modified for food samples to avoid inhibitory effects on sublethally damaged cells by toxic components in the formula. This is done by a preliminary period of incubation at reduced temperature and sometimes by delayed addition of antibiotics. Expensive and time-consuming methods have been proposed to achieve a microaerobic atmosphere while using liquid enrichment media. To date there is no generally accepted 'standard' method of isolating campylobacters from food.