Previous studies have reported that the mechanism of bactericidal action of the plant oil aromatics, eugenol, carvacrol and cinnamaldehyde involves inhibition of adenosine triphosphate generation and membrane disruption. In this study the capacity of the aromatics to inhibit the membrane bound ATPase activity of Escherichia coli and Listeria monocytogenes was investigated by experiments on isolated membranes. Inhibition of the ATPase activity of E. coli membranes was observed with 5 mM or 10 mM eugenol or carvacrol. Progressively greater inhibition by cinnamaldehyde was observed as concentration increased from 0.1 to 10 mM. L. monocytogenes ATPase activity was significantly inhibited by eugenol (5 or 10 mM), carvacrol (10 mM) and cinnamaldehyde (10 mM). Lactobacillus sakei is highly resistant to cinnamaldehyde compared to E. coli and L. monocytogenes. To determine whether this resistance was related to the relative hydrophobicity of the cell surface and hence the ability of the cell to take up the aromatics, the percentage of the three organisms partitioning in dodecane was compared. No significant difference was found between the partitioning percentage of L. monocytogenes (17.2%) and L. sakei (13.8%), indicating that surface hydrophobicity does not explain the differing sensitivity to cinnamaldehyde of these two organism. The percent partitioning of E. coli was significantly greater than both other organisms (23.3%) and may explain the greater sensitivity of E. coli to all three aromatics.