The foodborne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes lives as a saprophyte in nature and can adhere to and grow on surfaces as diverse as leaves, sediment, and stainless steel. To discern the mechanisms used by L. monocytogenes for attachment and growth on various surfaces, we studied interactions between the pathogen on lettuce and stainless steel. A panel of 24 strains (23 L. monocytogenes and 1 Listeria innocua) were screened for attachment and growth on lettuce at 4 and 25°C and on stainless steel at 10 and 37°C. Overnight growth of attached cells resulted in a 0- to 3-log increase on lettuce, depending on the strain and the temperature. Among the worst-performing strains on lettuce were two from a large cantaloupe outbreak, indicating that factors important for interactions with cantaloupe may be different from those required on lettuce tissue. Strains that grew the best on lettuce belonged to serotypes 1/2a, 1/2b, and 4b and were from cheese, potatoes, and water-sediment near produce fields. Confocal microscopy of L. monocytogenes tagged with constitutively expressed green fluorescent protein indicated associations with the cut edges and veins of lettuce leaves. On stainless steel coupons, there was a 5- to 7-log increase at 10°C after 7 days and a 4- to 7-log increase at 37°C after 40 h. Statistically, surface growth on stainless steel was better for serotype 1/2a than for serotype 4b strains, even though certain serotype 4b strains grew well on the coupons. The latter included strains that originated from produce and water-sediment. Some strains were fit in both environments, whereas others showed variability between the two different surfaces. Further analysis of these strains should reveal molecular factors needed for adherence and surface growth of L. monocytogenes on different biotic and abiotic surfaces.

  • L. monocytogenes strains vary in the capacity to grow while attached to lettuce and stainless steel.

  • Different factors may be used for attached growth to lettuce and stainless steel.

  • L. monocytogenes interacts with the cut edge and veins of lettuce leaves.

  • Serotype 1/2a strains of L. monocytogenes grew better on stainless steel than other serotypes.

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