Recent food-borne outbreaks of human listeriosis as well as numerous sporadic cases have been mainly caused by Listeria monocytogenes serovar 4b strains. Thus, it was of interest to find out whether a certain clone or a certain few clones were responsible for these cases and especially for outbreaks. We used pulsed-field gel electrophoresis of large chromosomal DNA restriction fragments generated by ApaI, SmaI, or NotI to analyse 75 L. monocytogenes strains isolated during six major and eight smaller recent listeriosis outbreaks. These strains could be divided into 20 different genomic varieties. Thirteen of 14 strains isolated during major epidemics in Switzerland (1983-1987), the United States (California, 1985) and Denmark (1985-1987) demonstrated indistinguishable DNA restriction patterns. In contrast, strains responsible for the outbreaks in Canada (Nova Scotia, 1981), the United States (Massachusetts, 1983), France (Anjou, 1975-1976), New Zealand (1969), and Austria (1986) and some smaller outbreaks in France (1987, 1988, 1989) were each characterized by particular combinations of DNA restriction patterns. Seventy-seven percent of the tested strains could be classified into the previously described ApaI group A (Brosch et al. 1991), demonstrating a very close genomic relatedness. Because 49% of the epidemic strains selected for this study belonged to phagovar 2389/2425/3274/2671/47/108/340 or 2389/47/108/340, fifty-six additional strains of these phagovars, isolated from various origins, were also typed to determine whether differences in DNA restriction profiles between epidemic and randomly selected strains of the same phagovars could be pointed out. Variations in DNA patterns appeared more frequently within randomly selected strains than within epidemic strains.