Undercooked and raw meat has been linked to outbreaks of hemorrhagic diarrhea due to the presence of Escherichia coli O157:H7; therefore, treatment with ionizing radiation was investigated as a potential method for the elimination of this organism. Response-surface methods were used to study the effects of irradiation dose (0 to 2.0 kGy), temperature (-20 to +20 degrees C), and atmosphere (air and vacuum) on E. coli O157:H7 in mechanically deboned chicken meat. Differences in irradiation dose and temperature significantly affected the results. Ninety percent of the viable E. coli in chicken meat was eliminated by doses of 0.27 kGy at +5 degrees C and 0.42 kGy at -5 degrees C. Small, but significant, differences in radiation resistance by E. coli were found when finely ground lean beef rather than chicken was the substrate. Unlike nonirradiated samples, no measurable verotoxin was found in finely ground lean beef which had been inoculated with 10(4.8) CFU of E. coli O157:H7 per g, irradiated at a minimum dose of 1.5 kGy, and temperature abused at 35 degrees C for 20 h. Irradiation is an effective method to control this food-borne pathogen.