17 Sep Australia launches nationwide probe after metal needles found hidden in strawberries
‘Someone is trying to sabotage the industry but also in doing that, they are putting babies’ and children’s and families’ lives at risk’
Consumers are being warned to slice the fruit before eating after one man was taken to hospital after swallowing fragments and experiencing “severe abdominal pain”, and a nine-year-old boy spat out a needle while eating a strawberry at school.
Needles have now reportedly been found in strawberries in all six Australian states and growers have started using metal detectors.
The state of Queensland, a major strawberry producer in a national industry worth more than A$130m (£70m) a year, has offered a A$100,000 (£55,000) reward for help tracing those responsible.
“Someone is trying to sabotage the industry but also in doing that, they are putting babies’ and children’s and families’ lives at risk,” Annastacia Palaszczuk, the premier of Queensland, said.
Six brands — The Berry Obsession, Berry Licious, Donnybrook Berries, Love Berry, Delightful Strawberries and Oasis — have been named as being affected.
Federal health minister Greg Hunt ordered the national food safety watchdog to investigate Queensland’s handling of the needle scare.
“The job is very, very clear. Protect the public and keep them safe,” Mr Hunt told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Woolworths Group has removed all the affected brands from shelves in its supermarkets, but continues to sell other varieties of the fruit.
Wholesale prices have halved to A$0.50 (£0.27) per punnet, which is below the cost of production in Western Australia.
Despite strawberry crops now peaking, growers have been forced to dump tonnes of prime fruit because of the price crash.
In what is thought to have been a copycat act, a woman was also caught putting a needle into a banana in the town of Maryborough.
The 62-year-old, who is believed to have mental health issues, was seen in a shop putting the piece of metal into the fruit.
Police said they were treating it as an isolated incident not linked to the wider contamination issue.