(Aug. 1) SPOKANE, Wash. — As health officials worked with Spokane Produce Inc. to determine how a foodborne illness outbreak was related to its romaine lettuce, government officials were tightlipped about details of the case.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it had traced the mid-July outbreak to 5-pound bags of romaine from Spokane Produce, but a spokesman declined to say whether the product was conventional or organic.

The FDA investigation into the outbreak likely will take it back to the farms that harvested the product, but the spokesperson declined to say where the romaine originated. Representatives of Spokane Produce did not return phone calls for comment.

A worker at Spokane Produce, however, on condition of anonymity, told a reporter for the Spokane Spokesman-Review who visited the facility that most of the lettuce the company processes comes from California.

Spokane Produce is a receiver and repacker that carries a full line of conventional fruits and vegetables as well as organic products. The company also is a fresh-cut processor.

Spokane Produce limited its official news releases to prepared statements on its Web site but opened its doors to news photographers the last week of July as it sanitized its facility and showcased its food safety procedures.

The FDA issued a consumer alert July 29, urging consumers to throw away all 5-pound bags of Romaine Toss romaine lettuce sold by Spokane Produce. It also asked grocery store produce managers in the Northwest if they had any smaller packages of romaine from the company.

Food Services of America had distributed the Spokane Produce product to restaurants and institutions in Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon.

The FDA alert came after 29 people fell sick from E. coli contamination of romaine at a Washington state cheerleading camp in mid-July. One of those who became ill is a teen-ager whose kidneys were so badly damaged that she is on dialysis, according to the FDA. The last reported illness related to the incident was July 19.

The FDA said it traced the outbreak to the 5-pound bags of Romaine Toss used at the cheerleading camp.

Spokane Produce shut down its processing operations at 12:30 p.m. July 29 for testing and sanitation. It also disposed of all processed salads and cut food items. A total of 21,000 pounds of product were incinerated, said Daniel Petek, a spokesman for Spokane Produce.

On July 29, Spokane Produce released a statement saying that safety officers, microbiologists and other officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the FDA and the Washington Department of Agriculture had inspected its facility. The officials also investigated the company’s Hazards Analysis and Critical Control Points program.

After a three-hour inspection, the officials expressed bewilderment at how an isolated outbreak involving just the cheerleading camp could happen because of food safety practices at the plant, the company said in its prepared statement. No other reports of illnesses related to the 5-pound bags of Romaine Toss had been reported by July 30, the company said.

On July 30, other officials conducted a daylong inspection of Spokane Produce’s facility and food safety programs.

Petek said his company was cooperating with health officials.