Intestinal carriage of extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL) -producing bacteria in food-producing animals and contamination of retail meat may contribute to increased incidences of infections with ESBL-producing bacteria in humans. Therefore, distribution of ESBL genes, plasmids and strain genotypes in Escherichia coli obtained from poultry and retail chicken meat in the Netherlands was determined and defined as 'poultry-associated' (PA). Subsequently, the proportion of E. coli isolates with PA ESBL genes, plasmids and strains was quantified in a representative sample of clinical isolates. The E. coli were derived from 98 retail chicken meat samples, a prevalence survey among poultry, and 516 human clinical samples from 31 laboratories collected during a 3-month period in 2009. Isolates were analysed using an ESBL-specific microarray, sequencing of ESBL genes, PCR-based replicon typing of plasmids, plasmid multi-locus sequence typing (pMLST) and strain genotyping (MLST). Six ESBL genes were defined as PA (bla(CTX-M-1) , bla(CTX-M-2) , bla(SHV-2) , bla(SHV-12) , bla(TEM-20) , bla(TEM-52) ): 35% of the human isolates contained PA ESBL genes and 19% contained PA ESBL genes located on IncI1 plasmids that were genetically indistinguishable from those obtained from poultry (meat). Of these ESBL genes, 86% were bla(CTX-M-1) and bla(TEM-52) genes, which were also the predominant genes in poultry (78%) and retail chicken meat (75%). Of the retail meat samples, 94% contained ESBL-producing isolates of which 39% belonged to E. coli genotypes also present in human samples. These findings are suggestive for transmission of ESBL genes, plasmids and E. coli isolates from poultry to humans, most likely through the food chain. 2011 The Authors. Clinical Microbiology and Infection; 2011 European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.