Over the past week reports of sewing needles being found in punnets of strawberries have come in from Queensland, Perth, Tasmania, New Zealand, South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. While police are currently investigating those reports, further cases of metal objects being found in fruit have surfaced. A banana was found to contain a metal object in Queensland, while a third report of a needle being discovered in apple in Sydney’s north-west hit news outlets today.
The sewing needle saga has now gone beyond isolated incidents at particular supermarkets and escalated into a serious threat against the Australian strawberry farmer industry.
A major strawberry supplier in Western Australia has now announced the implementation of metal detectors at their processing facility, at a cost of $30,000 to the supplier, at a time when farmers are feeling the pinch already.
Quality control manager Manjeet Singh at Canning Vale market agent Allstates Farms (which supplies about one-third of WA’s strawberries to Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and IGA on behalf of local farmers) told News.com.au, “All existing stock and new stock coming in will all be going through the scanner, punnet by punnet, tray by tray, then each tray will be sealed with a security sticker. We are doing what we can to support our growers and restore confidence to get people eating strawberries again.”
To add fuel to the fire of fear, a report of a spiked banana hit news outlets on September 17, but was later confirmed to be an isolated incident by Ian Stewart, the Queensland Police Commissioner. A spokesman for the Premier later clarified a person with a mental health issue put the object in the banana.
“We have a report about one incident involving a banana - that is the only one of those that we’ve had so far, that I’m aware of,” Commissioner Stewart told reporters.
The spiked apple found in Sydney’s north-west on September 18 suggests the sewing needle saga has spread to other fruits, and police are currently investigating.
Metal objects and sewing needles being found in fruit is now putting Australia’s $500 million strawberry industry at risk, as tonnes of the fruit are dumped or going to waste around the country at the peak of the strawberry season.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced a $1 million fund to help Queensland farmers struggling with the strawberry needle crisis. She said the money would be used to promote Queensland strawberries, to investigate how to improve traceability and integrity in the supply chain and to help growers for the remainder of this season.
“The sabotage of our strawberry industry is not just an attack on hard-working growers and workers, but it reaches into almost every home and school lunch box,” Palaszczuk told News.com.au.
So far the affected brands of strawberries are Donnybrook Berries, Love Berry, Delightful Strawberries, Oasis brands, Berry Obsession and Berry Licious.
The affected strawberry punnets have been found in:
- Queensland: Strathpine, Everton Park, Redbank Plains, Gladstone and the copycat incident reported in Gatton
- NSW: Tweed Heads, Engadine, market in Sydney
- Victoria: Three confirmed cases, in Preston, Seymour and Mildura
- South Australia: Adelaide Hills
- Tasmania: Rosny Park
- Western Australia: York
What to do if you find a foreign object in fruit
Queensland Health consumers to continue buying strawberries, but Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said to be ultra-cautious before eating them, no matter where you buy them from. Cut them up before eating them and thoroughly check the fruit prior to eating straberries.
If you find a needle in fruit contact the police immediately, who will then give you further instructions.
NSW Food Authority are warning consumers in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory to throw the affected punnets out or return to the place of purchase after several incidents of sewing needles were found in strawberries. Consumers are urged to check their fridges and freezers for stored product and dispose of any food which may contain this product.
Watch this space for further details.
Western Australia has joined Queensland in offering a $100,000 reward for any information that leads to the prosecution of anyone responsible for the sewing needles found inside strawberries across the country.
WA premier Mark McGowan said that, if caught and convicted, the person or persons responsible would be “subject to a 20-year period of imprisonment“.