A simple method has been developed for the analysis of aerobic bacteria in complex samples such as broth and food homogenates. It employs commercial phosphorescent oxygen-sensitive probes to monitor oxygen consumption of samples containing bacteria using standard microtiter plates and fluorescence plate readers. As bacteria grow in aqueous medium, at certain points they begin to deplete dissolved oxygen, which is seen as an increase in probe fluorescence above baseline signal. The time required to reach threshold signal is used to either enumerate bacteria based on a predetermined calibration or to assess the effects of various effectors on the growth of test bacteria by comparison with an untreated control. This method allows for the sensitive (down to a single cell), rapid (0.5 to 12 h) enumeration of aerobic bacteria without the need to conduct lengthy (48 to 72 h) and tedious colony counts on agar plates. It also allows for screening a wide range of chemical and environmental samples for their toxicity. These assays have been validated with different bacteria, including Escherichia coli, Micrococcus luteus, and Pseudomonas fluorescens, with the enumeration of total viable counts in broth and industrial food samples (packaged ham, chicken, and mince meat), and comparison with established agar plating and optical-density-at-600-nm assays has been given.