Early investigation of travel-related cases in an outbreak of an emerging infectious disease can provide useful information to epidemiologists to characterize the exposure, while they may differ in demographic profiles from cases reported in the country where the outbreak has occurred. During the spring 2011 E. coli outbreak in Germany, we proposed a methodological approach to collect a minimal set of demographic and clinical data that are relatively easy to obtain and available at an early stage of an outbreak investigation. Ninety-eight STEC O104 travel-related cases were reported in a survey by seven EU countries, Switzerland, Canada and the USA. We found a mean incubation period (n = 50) of 8·5 days, which confirmed previous estimations communicated by the Robert Koch Institute. No significant association was found between the duration of the incubation period and possible demographic and clinical factors, although the older the age, the shorter the incubation period that was observed. Such approach and observations are informative for further investigations of outbreaks of enterohaemorrhagic E. coli or other emerging infectious diseases.