This review looks at the contribution of microbiological sampling to the safety of retail foods in England and Wales. It compares sampling methods available and assesses the value of testing as part of outbreaks of foodborne disease, as part of routine management by local authorities, as part of work done or commissioned by the food industry, and as part of research. It confirms that microbiological testing has a role during outbreaks as it makes a significant contribution to help identify foods and other areas of greatest risk for future study. The review suggests that routine testing by local authorities is often of limited use and could be improved by more targeted surveillance. Testing could be better used to validate primary control methods, such as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. Any public health benefit from testing in the food industry is often restricted by client confidentiality. Microbial research on foods is important as it can lead to significant improvements in safety. Current microbiological methods are slow and, in future, rapid molecular methods may make an even bigger contribution to the control of foodborne disease.