Escherichia coli O157:H7/NM (E. coli O157) is now recognized as an important cause of diarrhea, hemorrhagic colitis and hemolytic-uremic syndrome worldwide. There have been several cases of human E. coli O157 infection in Korea since it was first isolated from a patient with hemolytic-uremic syndrome in 1998. Meat, other foods, and recreational and drinking water contaminated with animal feces are probably the major sources of the E. coli O157 infection. In this study, we investigated the prevalence of E. coli O157 in fecal and meat samples of cattle, pigs and chicken in Korea from April 2000 to July 2002. Eighty-six (3.03%) of 2843 samples were positive for E. coli O157. Most of the E. coli O157 strains were isolated from fecal samples of beef and dairy cattle from May to October of each year. Of 86 E. coli O157 isolates, 73 were serotype O157:H7 and 13 were serotype O157:NM. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis of E. coli O157 virulence markers revealed that all O157:H7/NM isolates were positive for EhlyA, eaeA and rfb(O157), and 77 isolates were positive for stx1 and/or stx2. Cytotoxicity analysis revealed that many of the E. coli O157 isolates showed high cytotoxicity on Vero cells. Our data suggest that the majority of Korean E. coli O157 isolates from food animals can cause serious diseases in humans.