The Vero cell assay presently used for virulence testing of verotoxigenic Escherichia coli (VTEC) requires at least 48-96 h where cytotoxicity effects are examined under a microscope. Here, a complimentary rapid assay was developed that measures endogenous lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) release from Vero or HEp-2 cells as an indicator of cytotoxicity. Toxin preparations from 24 VTEC strains induced 36-89% LDH from Vero cells and 15-62% LDH from HEp-2 cells in 12-16 h. A verotoxin-positive but enterohemolysin negative strain also showed a similar cytotoxicity effect. In contrast, three VT-negative strains caused only 13-16% LDH from Vero cells and 1-7% LDH from HEp-2 cells. Five presumptive E. coli isolates from naturally contaminated food and clinical sources did not induce significant LDH release from either cell lines. PCR analysis confirmed the presence of vt1 or vt2 genes in E. coli showing positive LDH values. Similarly, RiboPrinter analysis confirmed and identified the test strains as E. coli except for two meat isolates, which were identified as Hafnia alvei. Cytopathic effects of toxin preparations from VTEC revealed severe lysis, vacuole formation and death in Vero cells and multiple vacuoles and cell elongation in HEp-2 cells. The colorimetric cytotoxicity assay described here can provide quantitative data for determining the virulence potential of verotoxigenic E. coli in 12-16 h.