The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) based detection of blackleg and soft rot erwiniae involves pre-PCR processing steps which may compromise the sensitivity of detection. The aim of this study was to standardize these various steps to develop reproducible diagnostic PCR protocol for the detection of the three known soft rot erwiniae as they occur in the tuber, singly or in combination. Comparison of tuber peel and stolon end tissue as a starting material for enrichment of the bacteria indicated that tuber peel samples resulted in more representative and sensitive detection of the strains than extract from stolon end tissues. Substances of potato origin in the peel extract were found to be highly inhibitory to the PCR. Addition of the antioxidant Dethiotreitol to the samples before enrichment did not have any significant effect on detection during the 24 h period incubation of the peel extract at room temperature. Bulk washing of tubers with one rotten tuber included with the working sample caused surface contamination on 67–91% of the healthy tubers. Washing tubers individually circumvents the problem. The optimum temperature for enrichment of all the three strains was 27°C. At 37°C, Pectobacterium carotovorum failed to be detected while PCR on Pectobacterium atrosepticum and isolates of Dickeya spp. always produced amplification of the specific DNA fragments. Viability test on Nutrient Agar showed that only Dickeya isolates were viable after 48 h of incubation at 37°C suggesting that the detection of P. atrosepticum at 37°C was from dead or non-viable cells. Post cell death detection experiment further confirmed that DNA was amplified from dead cells of all the strains at 27°C and 33°C whereas at 37°C, only DNA from dead cells of isolates of Dickeya and P. atrosepticum were amplified. There was no amplification from the dead cells of all isolates of P. carotovorum following the 48 h post death incubation at 37°C. The reason for this difference in post death longevity is not clear at this stage.