Listeria monocytogenes has a remarkable ability to survive and persist in food production environments. The purpose of the present study was to determine if cells in a population of L. monocytogenes differ in sensitivity to disinfection agents as this could be a factor explaining persistence of the bacterium. In situ analyses of Listeria monocytogenes single cells were performed during exposure to different concentrations of the disinfectant Incimaxx DES to study a possible population subdivision. Bacterial survival was quantified with plate counting and disinfection stress at the single-cell level by measuring intracellular pH (pHi) over time by fluorescence ratio imaging microscopy. pHi values were initially 7 to 7.5 and decreased in both attached and planktonic L. monocytogenes cells during exposure to sublethal and lethal concentrations of Incimaxx DES. The response of the bacterial population was homogenous; hence, subpopulations were not detected. However, pregrowth with NaCl protected the planktonic bacterial cells during disinfection with Incimaxx (0.0015%) since pHi was higher (6 to 6.5) for the bacterial population pregrown with NaCl than for cells grown without NaCl (pHi 5 to 5.5) (P <0.05). The protective effect of NaCl was reflected by viable-cell counts at a higher concentration of Incimaxx (0.0031%), where the salt-grown population survived better than the population grown without NaCl (P <0.05). NaCl protected attached cells through drying but not during disinfection. This study indicates that a population of L. monocytogenes cells, whether planktonic or attached, is homogenous with respect to sensitivity to an acidic disinfectant studied on the single-cell level. Hence a major subpopulation more tolerant to disinfectants, and hence more persistent, does not appear to be present.