Food handlers may constitute a reservoir of virulent strains of Staphylococcus aureus and may be vehicles of their transmission to food.One hundred and sixty-two volunteers were assessed for the presence of S. aureus on the hands and in the nose. S. aureus was isolated by routine procedures, and the isolates were tested for susceptibility against a panel of nine antimicrobial agents. The isolates were further characterized by SmaI-PFGE profiling and the presence of virulence factors. Results: The prevalence of S. aureus was 19.8% in the nose and 11.1% on the hands; 6.2% of the individuals carried S. aureus both in their noses and hands, and three individuals had the same strain (PFGE type) in the nose and on the hands. Although 82% of the isolates were resistant to at least one antibiotic, none demonstrated the presence of either mecA gene or resistance to oxacillin (none identified as MRSA). Sixty-eight percent of the isolates from the nose and hands possessed enterotoxin genes.This study revealed a high prevalence of antibiotic resistance and virulence determinants among the isolates, including not only classical and novel enterotoxin genes but also major virulence factors such as tst. Potential dissemination of these strains in the community is a matter of concern.