The presence of 10 virulence genes was examined using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in 365 European O157 and non-O157 Escherichia coli isolates associated with verotoxin production. Strain-specific PCR data were analysed using hierarchical clustering. The resulting dendrogram clearly separated O157 from non-O157 strains. The former clustered typical high-risk seropathotype (SPT) A strains from all regions, including Sweden and Spain, which were homogenous by Cramer's V statistic, and strains with less typical O157 features mostly from Hungary. The non-O157 strains divided into a high-risk SPTB harbouring O26, O111 and O103 strains, a group pathogenic to pigs, and a group with few virulence genes other than for verotoxin. The data demonstrate SPT designation and selected PCR separated verotoxigenic E. coli of high and low risk to humans; although more virulence genes or pulsed-field gel electrophoresis will need to be included to separate high-risk strains further for epidemiological tracing.