The ability to recover cells from a fermentation broth in an intact form can be an important criterion for determining the overall performance of a recovery and purification sequence. Disruption of the cells can lead to undesired contamination of an extracellular product with intracellular components and vice versa loss of intracellular products may occur. In particular, the value of directed location of a product in the periplasmic space of say Escherichia coli (E. coli) would be diminished by such premature non-selective cell disruption. Several options exist for cell recovery/removal; namely centrifugation, in batch or continuous configuration, filtration or membrane operations, and in selected cases expanded beds. The choice of operation is dependant on many variables including the impact on the overall process sequence. In all cases, the cells are exposed to shear stresses of varying levels and times and additionally such environments exist in ancillary operations such as pumping, pipe flow, and control valves. In this study, a small-scale device has been designed to expose cells to controlled levels of shear, time and impact in a way that seeks to mimic those effects that may occur during full-scale processes. The extent of cell breakage was found to be proportional to shear stress. An additional level of breakage occurred due to the jet impacting on the collecting surface. Here it was possible to correlate the additional breakage with the impact velocity, which is a function of the distance that the jet travels before meeting the collection surface and the initial jet velocity. © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.