The reproduction and activity of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) are essential in their applications in the dairy industry and other fermentations. Traditionally used methods like plate counting and acidification tests require long incubation times and provide limited information. Fluorescence techniques provide possibilities for rapid assessment of cell physiology. We used traditional and fluorescence assays to assess the physiological condition of L. lactis subsp. lactis ML3 cultures that were exposed to various stress conditions. After exposure to some of the stress conditions, carboxyfluorescein (cF) labelling did not agree with plate counts. Therefore, a two-step method was developed in which cF labelling was followed by a lactose-energized efflux assay. The combined assay proved to be a good and rapid indicator for reproduction and acidification capacity of stressed L. lactis. This novel assay has potential for physiological research and dairy applications related to LAB.