The response of a potential nonpathogenic surrogate organism to a particular treatment should closely mimic the response of the target pathogenic organism. In this study, growth characteristics (generation time, lag phase duration, and maximum population), pH at stationary phase, and survival characteristics (level of attachment and survival on apple surfaces, resistance to hydrogen peroxide decontamination treatments, and thermal resistance at 60 degrees C) of 15 nonpathogenic generic Escherichia coli strains and one nonpathogenic E. coli O157:H43 strain were compared with those of two E. coli O157:H7 strains and two Salmonella strains. Few differences in growth characteristics or pH at stationary phase were evident between nonpathogenic and pathogenic strains tested. However, considerably more separation among strains was seen following investigation of survival characteristics. E. coli ECRC 97.0152, which does not contain genes encoding for known virulence factors associated with E. coli O157:H7, appears to be a good surrogate candidate, with growth and survival characteristics similar to those of E. coli O157:H7 strains. The less heat-resistant surrogate strains E. coli NRRL B-766 and NRRL B-3054 and E. coli ATCC 11775, ATCC 25253, and ATCC 25922 may be used when attempting to model the heat resistance of Salmonella Montevideo G4639 and Salmonella Poona RM 2350, respectively. These surrogate strains may be useful for evaluating the efficacy of intervention steps in reducing populations of selected strains of E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella in processing environments where these pathogens cannot be introduced.