The effects of cooking methods on the in vitro mutagenicity of individual foods, the in vitro mutagenicity of meals containing those foods, and the mutagenic exposure of human volunteers following consumption of the meals were examined using Ames bacterial strain TA98 with S-9 metabolic activation. Three methods of food preparation--boiling, baking and frying/flame-broiling--were compared. With meats, frying or broiling resulted in higher in vitro mutagenicity (10- to 50-fold) than did baking or boiling, whereas for carbohydrates, eggs or vegetables mutagenicity did not vary markedly with cooking method. The observed (experimental) mutagenic activity of the meals was quite similar to their calculated (predicted) mutagenicity, obtained by summing the mutagenicity of the individual foods in the meal. The close agreement between experimental and predicted mutagenicity indicated that components of the meal did not interact in either a synergistic or inhibitory manner. The mutagenicity of fried flame-broiled meals was approximately 10-fold greater than the mutagenicity of baked or broiled meals, which were similar in mutagenicity. The mutagenicity of human urine following consumption of the meals was related to the in vitro mutagenicity of the meals themselves. The in vitro mutagenicity of meals is markedly affected by the cooking method used to prepare them and the mutagenicity of the diet may be reflected in the mutagenicity of body fluids.