The isotope ratio of each of the light elements preserves individual information on the origin and history of organic natural compounds. Therefore, a multi-element isotope ratio analysis is the most efficient means for the origin and authenticity assignment of food, and also for the solution of various problems in ecology, archaeology and criminology. Due to the extraordinary relative abundances of the elements hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and sulfur in some biological material and to the need for individual sample preparations for H and S, their isotope ratio determination currently requires at least three independent procedures and approximately 1 h of work. We present here a system for the integrated elemental and isotope ratio analysis of all four elements in one sample within 20 min. The system consists of an elemental analyser coupled to an isotope ratio mass spectrometer with an inlet system for four reference gases (N2, CO2, H2 and SO2). The combustion gases are separated by reversible adsorption and determined by a thermoconductivity detector; H2O is reduced to H2. The analyser is able to combust samples with up to 100 mg of organic material, sufficient to analyse samples with even unusual elemental ratios, in one run. A comparison of the isotope ratios of samples of water, fruit juices, cheese and ethanol from wine, analysed by the four-element analyser and by classical methods and systems, respectively, yielded excellent agreements. The sensitivity of the device for the isotope ratio measurement of C and N corresponds to that of other systems. It is less by a factor of four for H and by a factor of two for S, and the error ranges are identical to those of other systems. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.