Flow-injection electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (FI-ESI-MS) of unfractionated cell-free extracts obtained from bacterial cells suspended in a solvent mixture was investigated as a rapid analytical method for reproducible, high-throughput bacterial identification. Five bacterial strains (two Escherichia coli, two Bacillus spp. and one Brevibacillus laterosporus) were studied in this investigation. Axenically grown bacterial cells were suspended in an acidic organic solvent and the cell-free extract was sequentially injected into a solvent flow stream that was sprayed into the ionization chamber of the ESI-MS. The spectra produced contained reproducible information, which was useful for discriminating between the bacteria. Tandem mass spectrometry was used to characterize further the peaks, and at least three classes of macromolecules, namely phospholipids, glycolipids, and proteins, were found to contribute most to the spectral information. Bacterial extracts stored under different conditions gave very similar mass spectra for each of the five bacterial strains, indicating that the extracts were stable even at room temperature for up to 24 h, with no loss of information content, which has obvious implications for automated high-throughput analysis. An analysis of the components of the extracting solvent mixture and their effects on the spectral information showed that acetonitrile contributes most significantly to the extraction process and hence to the information content of the spectra. Copyright © 2001 American Society for Mass Spectrometry.