A separation/preconcentration procedure using solid phase extraction has been proposed for the flame atomic absorption spectrometric determination of copper and nickel at trace level in food samples. The solid phase is Dowex Optipore SD-2 resin contained on a minicolumn, where analyte ions are sorbed as 5-methyl-4-(2-thiazolylazo) resorcinol chelates. After elution using 1 mol L-1 nitric acid solution, the analytes are determinate employing flame atomic absorption spectrometry. The optimization step was performed using a full two-level factorial design and the variables studied were: pH, reagent concentration (RC) and amount of resin on the column (AR). Under the experimental conditions established in the optimization step, the procedure allows the determination of copper and nickel with limit of detection of 1.03 and 1.90 mu g L-1, respectively and precision of 7 and 8%, for concentrations of copper and nickel of 200 mu g L-1. The effect of matrix ions was also evaluated. The accuracy was confirmed by analyzing of the followings certified reference materials: NIST SRM 1515 Apple leaves and GBW 07603 Aquatic and Terrestrial Biological Products. The developed method was successfully applied for the determination of copper and nickel in real samples including human hair, chicken meat, black tea and canned fish. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.