Dietary factors are important in the aetiology of human cancer and carcinogens, mostly heterocyclic aromatic amines, have been isolated from cooked proteinaceous foodstuffs. Whilst such carcinogens have induced tumours in rodent bioassays, the dosages required were much higher than estimates of human exposure levels. We have examined the possibility that genotoxins, which were not extractable prior to enzymic digestion, may be released from cooked beef by proteolysis. Dichloromethane and/or a solid-phase tandem extraction procedure were used with aqueous homogenates of pan-fried or uncooked beef, both before and after proteolysis (proteinase K). Genotoxicity was measured using the alkaline single cell–gel electrophoresis (‘Comet') assay in MCL-5 cells and mutagenicity in Salmonella typhimurium strains TA1538 or YG1019. Proteolysis released significant amounts of DNA-damaging material that was not extractible prior to enzymic digestion, suggesting that human exposures to diet-derived genotoxins may have been underestimated.