Twenty-five Listeria monocytogenes strains of various serotypes and sources, including clinical and food isolates associated with the same outbreaks, were characterized and compared based on growth rates and heat and acid death rates. Growth was monitored in tryptic soy broth supplemented with 0.6% yeast extract (TSBYE) at 4 and 30 degrees C for 32 days and 20 h, respectively. Heat and acid stress responses in TSBYE heated to 55 degrees C or acidified to pH 3.0 with lactic acid were evaluated for 240 or 120 min, respectively. Extensive variation in growth and stress resistance was observed among the tested strains. Growth rate differences were less evident at 30 than at 4 degrees C, where growth rates (log CFU per milliliter per day) ranged from 0.28 to 0.43. Thermal and acid death rates (log CFU per milliliter per minute) ranged from -0.023 to -0.052 and from -0.012 to -0.134, respectively. Serotype appeared to play a significant role (P < 0.05) only with respect to the heat resistance of the organism. Serotype 4b isolates as a group had lower heat resistance than did isolates representing all other serotypes combined. Although no clear origin-related (food versus clinical) trends were observed under the tested conditions, outbreak-related isolates of serotype 4b had lower acid death rates (higher acid resistance) (P < 0.05) than did the rest of the strains belonging to this serotype. Strain Scott A exhibited slow growth at 4 degrees C and low acid resistance, behavior that was distinct among both clinical and serotype 4b isolates. The results of this study highlight the risks associated with extrapolation to other strains of findings obtained with only one strain of L. monocytogenes. This information should be useful when test strains are to be selected for the evaluation of antimicrobial alternatives in ready-to-eat meat and other food products and when risk assessments are to be conducted.