During 2007–2010, 13 545 confirmed human verocytotoxin (VT)-producing Escherichia coli (VTEC) infections were reported in the European Union, including 777 haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) cases. Clinical manifestations were reported for 53% of cases, 64% of which presented with diarrhoea alone and 10% with HUS. Isolates from 85% of cases were not fully serotyped and could not be classified on the basis of the Karmali seropathotype concept. There is no single or combination of phenotypic or genetic marker(s) that fully define ‘pathogenic’ VTEC. Isolates which contain the vtx2 (verocytotoxin 2) gene in combination with the eae (intimin-encoding) gene or aaiC (secreted protein of enteroaggregative E. coli) and aggR (plasmid-encoded regulator) genes have been associated with a higher risk of more severe illness. A molecular approach targeting genes encoding VT and other virulence determinants is thus proposed to allow an assessment of the potential severity of disease that may be associated with a given VTEC isolate.