On the basis of the comparison of the nucleotide sequences of the histidine decarboxylase genes (hdcA) of Lactobacillus 30A and Clostridium perfringens and the amino acid sequences of these histidine decarboxylases and those of Lactobacillus buchneri and Micrococcus, oligonucleotides unique to the hdcA genes were synthesized and used in PCR. All histidine-decarboxylating lactic acid bacteria gave a signal with primer set JV16HC/JV17HC in PCR. In addition to this primer set, CL1/CL2 and CL1/JV17HC were also useful for the detection of histamine-forming Leuconostoc oenos strains in PCR. The 150 base pair amplification product of the decarboxylating Leuc. oenos strain generated with primer set CL1/CL2 was sequenced. Alignment studies showed a high degree of relatedness among the hdcA gene products of Gram-positive bacteria. The amplification products of the hdcA genes from Lact. buchneri and Leuc. oenos were used to serve as a DNA probe in hybridization studies. All histidine-decarboxylating lactic acid bacteria gave a hybridization signal with the DNA probes. In hybridization only one false-positive signal with a Lactobacillus lindneri strain was observed, which was anticipated to contain a truncated hdcA gene. In addition to these DNA probe tests, a simple and reliable activity test is presented, which can be used during starter selection to test strains for histidine decarboxylase activity.