The aim of this study was to investigate the level of strain variability amongst food and clinical Listeria monocytogenes isolates growing at low temperatures (4 and 7 °C) in both laboratory media and real food matrices. Isolates (n = 150) grown in laboratory media demonstrated a large variation in growth profiles measured using optical density.
Overall, it was noted that clinical isolates exhibited a significantly higher growth rate (p ≤ 0.05) at 7 °C than the other isolates. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) tests of isolates grouped using Multi Locus Sequence Typing (MLST) revealed that clonal complex 18 (CC18) isolates were significantly (p ≤ 0.05) faster growing at 4 °C than other CC-type isolates while CC101, CC18, CC8, CC37 and CC14 were faster growing than other CC types at 7 °C. Euclidean distance and Ward method-based hierarchical clustering of mean growth rates classified 33.33% of isolates as faster growing.
Fast and slow growing representative isolates were selected from the cluster analysis and growth rates were determined using plate count data in laboratory media and model food matrices. In agreement with the optical density experiments, CC18 isolates were faster and CC121 isolates were slower than other CC types in laboratory media, UHT milk and fish pie. The same trend was observed in chocolate milk but the differences were not statistically significant. Moreover, pan-genome analysis (Scoary) of isolate genome sequences only identified six genes of unknown function associated with increased cold tolerance while failing to identify any known cold tolerance genes. Overall, an association that was consistent in laboratory media and real food matrices was demonstrated between isolate CC type and increased cold tolerance.