Microbiological impedance devices are routinely used by food and manufacturing industries, and public health agencies to measure microbiological growth. Factors contributing to increases and decreases in capacitance at the culture medium-electrode interface are poorly understood. To objectively evaluate the effects of temperature, cell density and medium conductivity on capacitance, admittance values from an impedance device were standardized; capacitance was converted to susceptance to allow unit comparisons with conductance. Although increases in temperature increased susceptance, a linear relationship could not be established between the change of susceptance with temperature and conductance of the medium. Cell density by itself had no measureable effect on susceptance or conductance, indicating that cells did not impede the movement of ions in the medium or around the electrode. In a low conductivity medium, increases in conductance by the addition of ions resulted in a concomitant increase of susceptance values. However, in a high conductivity medium, increases in conductance resulted in little or no increase of susceptance values because ions saturated the electrode surface. Susceptance increased when Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Alcaligenes faecalis and Staphylococcus aureus were grown in high conductivity media because protons produced by metabolically active bacteria balance more charge on the electrode than other ions. Increases in susceptance due to bacterial growth and metabolism in low conductivity media were attributed to both increases in protons and ionic metabolites. These results indicate that capacitance may provide a better measure of microbial growth and metabolism than conductance. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.