Listeria monocytogenes is a ubiquitous, saprophytic, Gram-positive bacterium and occasional food-borne pathogen, often associated with ready-to-eat meat products. Because of the increased consumer interest in organic, all natural, and free range poultry products, it is important to understand L. monocytogenes in the context of such systems. Pasture-reared poultry were surveyed over the course of two 8-wk rearing periods. Cecal, soil, and grass samples were collected for Listeria isolation and characterization. Seven of 399 cecal samples (or 1.75%) were Listeria-positive.
All positive cecal samples were obtained from broilers sampled at 2 wk of age. Grass and soil samples were collected from the pasture both before and after introduction of the poultry. Environmental samples collected after introduction of poultry were significantly more likely to contain Listeria (P < 0.001). The results of analytical profile index Listeria, sigB allelic typing, and hlyA PCR tests found that both L. monocytogenes and L. innocua, including hemolytic L. innocua, were recovered from the cecal and environmental (grass/soil) samples. The sigB allelic typing also revealed that (1) positive samples could be composed of 2 or more allelic types; (2) allelic types found in cecal samples could also be found in the environment; and (3) allelic types could persist through the 2 rearing periods. Our data indicate that both pasture-reared poultry and their environment can be contaminated with L. monocytogenes and hemolytic L. innocua.