The effect of NaCl on the thermal inactivation of Listeria monocytogenes has been investigated by conventional microbiological techniques and by using differential scanning calorimetry (DSC). Addition of 1.5 M-NaCl to cells grown at lower NaCl concentrations significantly increases the tolerance of cells to mild heat stress (56-62 degrees C). DSC thermograms show five main peaks which are shifted to higher temperatures in the presence of 1.5 M-NaCl. Measurement of loss of viability in the calorimeter gave good correlation between cell death and the first major thermogram peak at two NaCl concentrations. The time course of the loss of this first peak when cells were heated and held at 60 degrees C in the calorimeter matched the loss of viability, whereas the peak attributable to DNA showed little change during this process. The use of DSC to investigate the mechanisms involved in thermal inactivation is discussed.