A simple and economic separation and speciation procedure for selenium in food and water samples have been presented prior to its graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry (GFAAS). Magnesium hydroxide coprecipitation system for selenium(IV) was applied to the separation and speciation of selenium ions. The influences of the various analytical parameters for the quantitative recoveries of selenium ions like pH, amounts of magnesium ions as carrier elements, etc. on were examined. The effects of the alkaline and earth alkaline metals, some transition metals and some anions on the recoveries of selenium(IV) were also investigated. The recoveries of analytes were found greater than 95%. No appreciable matrix effects were observed. The detection limit, defined as three times the blank standard deviation (3 sigma), was 0.030 mu g l(-1). The preconcentration factor for the presented system was 25. The proposed method was applied to the speciation of selenium(IV), selenium(VI) and determination of total selenium in natural waters and microwave digested various food samples with satisfactory results. The procedure was validated with certified reference materials. The relative errors and relative standard deviations were below 6% and 10%, respectively. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.