Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a facultative anaerobe that can grow in a variety of environmental conditions. In the complete absence of O2, E. coli can perform a mixed-acid fermentation that contains within it an elaborate metabolism of formic acid. In this study, we use cavity-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (CERS), FTIR, liquid Raman spectroscopy, isotopic labelling, and molecular genetics to make advances in the understanding of bacterial formate and H2 metabolism. It is shown that, under anaerobic conditions, formic acid is generated endogenously, excreted briefly from the cell, and then taken up again to be disproportionated to H2 and CO2 by formate hydrogenlyase (FHL-1). However, exogenously added D-labelled formate behaves quite differently from the endogenous formate and is taken up immediately, independently, and possibly by a different mechanism, by the cell and converted to H2 and CO2. Our data support an anion-proton symport model for formic acid transport. In addition, when E. coli was grown in a microaerobic environment it was possible to analyse aspects of formate and O2 respiration occurring alongside anaerobic metabolism. While cells growing under microaerobic conditions generated endogenous formic acid, no H2 was produced. However, addition of exogenous formate at the outset of cell growth did induce FHL-1 biosynthesis and resulted in formate-dependent H2 production in the presence of O2.