In 2012 a US multistate outbreak of listeriosis was linked to ricotta salata imported from Italy, made from pasteurized sheep's milk. Sampling activities were conducted in Italy to trace the source of Listeria monocytogenes contamination. The cheese that caused the outbreak was produced in a plant in Apulia that processed semi-finished cheeses supplied by five plants in Sardinia. During an ‘emergency sampling’, 179 (23·6%) out of 758 end-products tested positive for L. monocytogenes, with concentrations from <10 c.f.u./g to 1·1 × 106 c.f.u./g. Positive processing environment samples were found in two out of four processing plants. A ‘follow-up sampling’ was conducted 8 months later, when environmental samples from three out of six plants tested positive for L. monocytogenes and for Listeria spp. PFGE subtyping showed 100% similarity between US clinical strains and isolates from ricotta salata, confirming the origin of the outbreak. The persistence of strains in environmental niches of processing plants was demonstrated, and is probably the cause of product contamination. Two PFGE profiles from clinical cases of listeriosis in Italy in 2011, stored in the MSS-TESSy database, were found to have 100% similarity to one PFGE profile from a US clinical case associated with the consumption of ricotta salata, according to the US epidemiological investigation (sample C, pulsotype 17). However, they had 87% similarity to the only PFGE profile found both in the US clinical case and in 14 ricotta cheese samples collected during the emergency sampling (sample B, pulsotype 1). Sharing of molecular data and availability of common characterization protocols were key elements that connected the detection of the US outbreak to the investigation of the food source in Italy. Simultaneous surveillance systems at both food and human levels are a necessity for the efficient rapid discovery of the source of an outbreak of L. monocytogenes.