Public fears in Australia over needles concealed in strawberries
Queensland state offers large reward for information on contamination scare
Strawberry punnets are seen at a supermarket in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Photograph: EPA
Growers have started using metal detectors and the Australian government has launched an investigation to restore confidence in the popular fruit.
The government of Queensland state, where the contamination scare started last week, has offered a 100,000 Australian dollar (€62,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for inserting needles into strawberries after six brands — Donnybrook Berries, Love Berry, Delightful Strawberries, Oasis, Berry Obsession and Berry Licious — were recalled.
The scare had spread across the nation by Monday, with needles reportedly found in strawberries in all six Australian states. No injuries have been reported.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt ordered the national food safety watchdog to investigate Queensland’s handling of the needle scare.
He directed Food Standards Australia New Zealand to investigate whether there are supply chain weaknesses that need to be fixed.
“The job is very, very clear. Protect the public and keep them safe,” Mr Hunt told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
New Zealand imports Australian strawberries when they are out of season locally from April to September, and both chains say the home-grown product will be on supermarket shelves soon.
“I’m angry for all the associated people, it’s the farmers, the people who supply them, the packaging people, the truckies with families to support, who suddenly lose their jobs ... it’s far-reaching,” Mr Schultz said.
But Western Australia police announced on Monday that the first suspected needle contamination case has been reported in locally grown fruit.
A man in the town of York reported to police that he found a needle in a sink after washing strawberries.
The report came after a seven-year-old girl in South Australia state found a needle in a Western Australia-grown strawberry on Saturday.
Western Australia Health Minister Roger Cook said the needle could have been inserted in the fruit after it arrived in South Australia.