In vivo studies have provided evidence that micro-organisms have important roles in immunological, digestive and respiratory functions, conferring health benefits on the host. Several in vitro methods have been advised for the initial screening of microbes with potential health effects. The objective of the present study was to employ such in vitro methodology to characterise different strains of Enterococcus faecalis. The characteristics of a commercial product marketed as a probiotic, Symbioflor-1 (Symbiopharm), were compared with the characteristics of both pathogenic and commensal strains. Tolerance towards low pH and viability after exposure to human gastric and duodenal juices were assayed. Symbioflor-1 was the most susceptible strain to these treatments when compared with the other E. faecalis strains. Furthermore, Symbioflor-1 exhibited the lowest adhesion capacity to intestinal epithelial cells (IEC) and mucus. Competitive binding studies using heparin indicated that glycosaminoglycans might be involved in the adhesion to IEC, but also that differences in these putative bacteria–host interactions do not cause the relative low adhesion capacity of Symbioflor-1. Maturation of dendritic cells (DC) after exposure to bacteria was assayed as an indication of an immunomodulatory effect. All strains induced a moderate elevation of the DC maturation markers CD83 and CD86; however, no strain-specific differences were detected. Correlations between in vitro and in vivo studies are discussed. Although in vitro assaying is a rational starting point for the selection of microbes with a potential health benefit, it is emphasised that human clinical trials are the definite tool for establishing probiotic status.