A study on the prevalence of the faecal carriage of Escherichia coli O157 in lambs was performed in the major slaughterhouse in Rome, central Italy, during 2002. A total of 643 animals, consisting of 378 weaned and 265 suckling lambs, were assayed for the presence of E. coli O157. Five O157-agglutinating E. coli strains were isolated (0·8%, 95% CI 0·3–1·9). Only one was positive to PCR specific for the eae gene and produced verocytotoxin VT2, with a VTEC O157 overall prevalence of 0·2% (95% CI 0·0–1·0), whereas one strain possessed the eae gene only. All the other isolates were negative for the presence of all the virulence genes considered. The animals were either from local farms or imported from Eastern Europe. The results suggest an age-specific difference since the microorganism was isolated only from 0·3% (95% CI 0·0–1·7) of weaned lambs, while all samples from suckling lambs tested negative. From this study, the overall risk of human exposure to pathogenic E. coli O157 from lamb meat consumption derived from the major slaughterhouse in Rome can be considered reasonably low, particularly when suckling lamb meat is considered.