Despite growing concerns about cross-contamination of ready-to-eat foods with Listeria monocytogenes, our knowledge about the ecology and transmission of L. monocytogenes in retail establishments has remained limited. We conducted a cross-sectional study to characterize the prevalence, distribution, and subtype diversity of L. monocytogenes in 120 New York State retail deli establishments that were hypothesized to present an increased risk for environmental L. monocytogenes contamination (i.e., small establishments and establishments with a history of failed New York State Agriculture and Markets inspections). Analysis of these data along with previously reported data for 121 predominantly larger retail establishments in New York State identified establishment size, geographic location, and inspection history as significant predictors of L. monocytogenes presence and prevalence. The odds of an establishment being L. monocytogenes positive were approximately twice as high for large establishments, establishments located in New York City, or establishments with poor inspection history (as compared with establishments without these attributes), even though correlation between location and inspection history complicated interpretation of results. Within an establishment, L. monocytogenes was significantly more prevalent on nonfood contact surfaces than on food contact surfaces; prevalence was particularly high for floors and in floor drains, sinks, the dairy case, and milk crates. L. monocytogenes subtype diversity differed between sites, with lineage I isolates significantly associated with nonfood contact surfaces and lineage II isolates significantly associated with food contact surfaces. Isolates belonging to the same ribotype were often found dispersed across multiple sites within an operation.

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Author notes

Present address: Columbia University Medical Center, 722 West 168th Street, New York, NY 10032, USA.

Present address: Association of Food and Drug Officials, 2550 Kingston Road, Suite 311, York, PA 17402, USA.