As food safety management further develops, microbiological testing will continue to play an important role in assessing whether Food Safety Objectives are achieved. However, traditional microbiological culture-based methods are limited, particularly in their ability to provide timely data. The present review discusses the reasons for the increasing interest in rapid methods, current developments in the field, the research needs, and the future trends. The advent of biotechnology has introduced new technologies that led to the emergence of rapid diagnostic methods and altered food testing practices. Rapid methods are comprised of many different detection technologies, including specialized enzyme substrates, antibodies and DNA, ranging from simple differential plating media to the use of sophisticated instruments. The use of non-invasive sampling techniques for live animals especially came into focus with the 1990s outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy that was linked to the human outbreak of Creutzfeldt Jakob's Disease. Serology is still an important tool in preventing foodborne pathogens to enter the human food supply through meat and milk from animals. One of the primary uses of rapid methods is for fast screening of large number of samples, where most of them are expected to be test-negative, leading to faster product release for sale. This has been the main strength of rapid methods such as real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). Enrichment PCR, where a primary culture broth is tested in PCR, is the most common approach in rapid testing. Recent reports show that it is possible both to enrich a sample and enumerate by pathogen-specific real-time PCR, if the enrichment time is short. This can be especially useful in situations where food producers ask for the level of pathogen in a contaminated product. Another key issue is automation, where the key drivers are miniaturization and multiple testing, which mean that not only one instrument is flexible enough to test for many pathogens but also many pathogens can be detected with one test. The review is mainly based on the author's scientific work that has contributed with the following new developments to this field: (i) serologic tests for large-scale screening, surveillance, or eradication programs, (ii) same-day detection of Salmonella that otherwise was considered as difficult to achieve, (iii) pathogen enumeration following a short log-phase enrichment, (iv) detection of foodborne pathogens in air samples, and finally (v) biotracing of pathogens based on mathematical modeling, even in the absence of isolate. Rapid methods are discussed in a broad global health perspective, international food supply, and for improvement of quantitative microbial risk assessments. The need for quantitative sample preparation techniques, culture-independent, metagenomic-based detection, online monitoring, a global validation infrastructure has been emphasized. The cost and ease of use of rapid assays remain challenging obstacles to surmount. © 2011 The Author. APMIS © 2011 APMIS.