Escherichia coli can adapt to various stress conditions encountered in food through induction of stress response genes encoding proteins that counteract the respective stresses. To understand the impact and the induction of these genes under food-associated stresses, changes in the levels of their mRNA expression in response to such stresses can be analysed. Relative quantification of mRNA levels by reverse transcription quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) requires normalization to reference genes with stable expression under the experimental conditions being investigated. We examined the validity of three housekeeping genes (cysG, hcaT and rssA) among E. coli strains exposed to salt and organic acid stress. The rssA gene was shown to be the most stably expressed gene under such stress adaptation experimental models. The cysG gene was the least stable, whereas the hcaT gene showed similar interstrain variability as rssA but lower expression stability in the different stress adaptation models.