The increase in foodborne outbreaks highlights the need for rapid, sensitive and specific methods for food safety monitoring, enabling specific detection and quantification of viable foodborne pathogens. Real-time PCR (qPCR) combined with the use of viability dyes, recently introduced, fulfils all these requirements. The strategy relies on the use of DNA-binding molecules such as propidium monoazide (PMA) or ethidium monoazide (EMA) as sample pretreatment previous to the qPCR. These molecules permeate only membrane-compromised cells and have successfully been applied for different types of foodborne pathogens, including bacteria and viruses. Moreover, those dyes have been explored to monitor different food manufacturing processes as an alternative to classical cultural methods. In this review, state-of-the-art information regarding viability PCR (v-PCR) is compiled.