To assess the level of exposure to food contaminants (cadmium, lead, PCBs, DDT, hexachlorobenzene, nitrate and malathion) a total-diet study was carried out. A total of 226 food products were analysed individually; the concentration of contaminants in products not selected for analysis was estimated with the help of published data. The results of the analyses and estimations were used as input for the first Dutch National Food Consumption Survey (1987-1988) (n = 5898, age 1-85). Mean intakes of all contaminants analysed did not exceed the acceptable daily intake (ADI) or comparable values in any of the age-sex groups. Comparison of the results with those of previous total diet studies suggests that the intake of all contaminants analysed had declined between 1976-1978 and 1988-1989. In younger age groups an intake of lead and cadmium exceeding the tolerable daily intake (derived from the WHO/FAO provisional tolerable weekly intake) was found in 1.5% of individuals at most. For the older population groups and for the other contaminants in all population groups mean and maximum intakes were substantially below the ADI. However, individual intakes above the ADI for nitrate were found in 3-23% of individuals. For chronic exposure these percentages are likely to be overestimated because of the short time frame for food consumption measurement. In general, the difference between mean intake and tolerable daily intake was smallest for children aged 1-4. Therefore, it is recommended that future research is concentrated on the intake of contaminants in younger age groups.