The gram-positive bacterium Listeria monocytogenes is an ubiquitous, intracellular pathogen which has been implicated within the past decade as the causative organism in several outbreaks of foodborne disease. Listeriosis, with a mortality rate of about 24%, is found mainly among pregnant women, their fetuses, and immunocompromised persons, with symptoms of abortion, neonatal death, septicemia, and meningitis. Epidemiological investigations can make use of strain-typing procedures such as DNA restriction enzyme analysis or electrophoretic enzyme typing. The organism has a multifactorial virulence system, with the thiol-activated hemolysin, listeriolysin O, being identified as playing a crucial role in the organism's ability to multiply within host phagocytic cells and to spread from cell to cell. The organism occurs widely in food, with the highest incidences being found in meat, poultry, and seafood products. Improved methods for detecting and enumerating the organism in foodstuffs are now available, including those based on the use of monoclonal antibodies, DNA probes, or the polymerase chain reaction. As knowledge of the molecular and applied biology of L. monocytogenes increases, progress can be made in the prevention and control of human infection.