Fifty-four of 310 (17%) samples of raw beef products contained Vero cytotoxin (VT)-producing Escherichia coli (VTEC) detected by DNA probes for the VT genes. VTEC strains examined in detail from a selection of the positive samples belonged to several O serogroups, some of which have been associated with human diarrhoea or haemolytic uraemic syndrome. Some of the strains possessed properties that may contribute to virulence in man. None of the food samples contained VT-producing E. coli O157 when tested by a combination of VT probe tests and colony immunoblotting with commercially available anti-O157 serum. Quantification of the immunoblotting technique indicated that O157 VTEC could be recovered from artificially-inoculated meat samples at a level of less than one organism per gram. Five of the food samples carried E. coli O157 strains that did not produce VT and differed in other properties from O157 VTEC.