To understand why Listeria monocytogenes may persist in food industry equipment and premises, notably at low temperature, scientific studies have so far focused on adhesion potential, biofilm forming ability, resistance to desiccation, acid and heat, tolerance to increased sublethal concentration of disinfectants or resistance to lethal concentrations. Evidence from studies in processing plants shows that the factors associated with the presence of L. monocytogenes are those that favor growth. Interestingly, most conditions promoting bacterial growth were shown, in laboratory assays, to decrease adhesion of L. monocytogenes cells. Good growth conditions can be found in so-called harborage sites, i.e. shelters due to unhygienic design of equipment and premises or unhygienic or damaged materials. These sites are hard to eliminate. A conceptual model of persistence/no persistence based on the relative weight of growth vs. outcome of cleaning and disinfection is suggested. It shows that a minimum initial bacterial load is necessary for bacteria to persist in a harborage site and that when a low initial bacterial charge is applied, early cleaning and disinfection is the only way to avoid persistence. We conclude by proposing that there are no strains of L. monocytogenes with unique properties that lead to persistence, but harborage sites in food industry premises and equipment where L. monocytogenes can persist.
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