Listeria species have been isolated from diverse environments, often at considerable prevalence, and are known to persist in food processing facilities. The presence of Listeria spp. has been suggested to be a marker for Listeria monocytogenes contamination. Therefore, a study was conducted to (i) determine the prevalence and diversity of Listeria spp. in produce production and natural environments and (ii) identify geographical and/or meteorological factors that affect the isolation of Listeria spp. in these environments. These data were also used to evaluate Listeria spp. as index organisms for L. monocytogenes in produce production environments. Environmental samples collected from produce production (n = 588) and natural (n = 734) environments in New York State were microbiologically analyzed to detect and isolate Listeria spp. The prevalence of Listeria spp. was approximately 33 and 34% for samples obtained from natural environments and produce production, respectively. Coisolation of L. monocytogenes and at least one other species of Listeria in a given sample was recorded for 3 and 9% of samples from natural environments and produce production, respectively. Soil moisture and proximity to water and pastures were highly associated with isolation of Listeria spp. in produce production environments, while elevation, study site, and proximity to pastures were highly associated with isolation of Listeria spp. in natural environments, as determined by randomForest models. These data show that Listeria spp. were prevalent in both agricultural and nonagricultural environments and that geographical and meteorological factors associated with isolation of Listeria spp. were considerably different between the two environments.
†Present address: Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Citrus Research and Education Center, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, 700 Experiment Station Road, Lake Alfred, FL 33850, USA.