Water activity is a method of preservation that can affect microbial growth in foods and that may fluctuate during their processing, distribution and storage. Sucrose has been used to change the water activity of microbiological culture media. Suspensions of Salmonella typhimurium LT2 in the exponential phase of growth have been subjected to step changes in sucrose concentration at 20 degrees C. The changes in the numbers of viable bacteria were measured with time and the experimental growth curves compared with predictions based on growth data obtained at constant sucrose concentrations. Steps down in sucrose concentration showed some apparent loss of viability after the step followed by growth at a rate close to the expected value. Steps up in sucrose concentration resulted in a greater apparent loss of viability after the step and either growth or the inducement of lag, depending on the final concentration of sucrose. A series of small steps up in sucrose concentration to 45% (w/v) was able to sustain growth where it was not possible by inoculation directly into this concentration. Improved recovery of bacteria subject to osmotic stress was possible with a medium containing sodium chloride.