We present a computationally efficient method for solving the method of excess fractions used in multi-frequency interferometry for absolute phase measurement. The Chinese remainder theorem, an algorithm from number theory is used to provide a unique solution for absolute distance via a set of congruence's based on modulo arithmetic. We describe a modified version of this theorem to overcome its sensitivity to phase measurement noise. A comparison with the method of excess fractions has been performed to assess the performance of the algorithm and processing speed achieved. Experimental data has been obtained via a full-field fringe projection system for three projected fringe frequencies and processed using the modified Chinese remainder theorem algorithm. © 2004 Optical Society of America.