[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Conventional tools for measuring dietary exposure have well recognized limitations. Measurement of food-derived metabolites in biofluids provides an alternative approach and our aim was to develop an experimental protocol which ensures that extraneous variability does not obscure metabolic signals from ingested foods. Healthy adults consumed a standardized meal in the evening before each test day and collected pooled overnight urine. On each test day of three different studies, urine was collected in the fasted state and at different time points after consumption of a standardized breakfast. Metabolite fingerprinting of samples using Flow Infusion Electrospray-Ionization Mass Spectrometry followed by multivariate data analysis showed strong discrimination between overnight, fasting and postprandial samples, in each study separately and when data from the three studies were pooled. Such differences were robust and highly reproducible within individuals on separate occasions. Urine volume was an efficient data normalization factor for metabolite fingerprinting data. Postprandial urines had a stable chemical composition over a period of 2-4 h after eating a standardized breakfast, suggesting that there is a flexible time window for urine collection. Fasting urine samples provided a stable baseline for universal comparisons with postprandial samples. A dietary exposure biomarker discovery protocol was validated by demonstrating that top-ranked signals discriminating between fasting and 2-4 h postprandial urine samples could be linked to metabolites abundant in some components of the standardized breakfast. We conclude that the protocol developed will have value in the search for biomarker leads of dietary exposure. ELECTRONIC SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIAL: The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11306-011-0289-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.