Drastic method to get Australian strawberries back on shelves

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STRICT new export rules have been introduced as Australia’s national needle contamination scare leaves strawberry growers in crisis and police baffled.

All six states are investigating reports of tampering that has seen needles or pins discovered in strawberries, as well as reports today extending to apples and bananas.

Police fear a spate of copycat attacks has seen the crisis extend beyond the original single grower in Queensland more than a week ago.

Exporters have now been told they must prove their fruit has been cleared through a metal detector or x-ray machine before the federal Department of Agriculture will issue a permit.

But many fear the damage to the reputation of Australian-grown strawberries has been done.

Queensland Strawberry Industry Officer Jennifer Rowlings said some trade partners in Russia and the UK have already blocked Australian imports.

New Zealand announced this week it would pull Aussie-grown berries from its supermarket shelves.

Police are investigating an incident where a needle was found in an apple in Sydney’s northwest and another in a banana in Bankstown yesterday.

Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty of New South Wales Police said there were also reports today a needle had been found in fruit by a child at a school in the northern part of the state.


Superintendent Doherty said police were still unclear whether cases were a result of copycat behaviour, with no confirmed motivation or reasoning.

He said they were treating all cases as genuine and stressed food contamination was a serious offence with 10 years jail time.

“The consequences are dire,” Superintendent Doherty said. “It’s an act of treachery on the community of NSW and across the nation.”

There have been more than 20 incidents across NSW, between Tweed Heads and Albury, plus the further cases in the isolated fruits.

Superintendent Doherty said they had no confirmed suspects or demands but police were receiving information from the community via Crime Stoppers.

“It’s not funny — we’re at a point where kids are nearly going to bite into a strawberry,” he said.

“It’s fortuitous we haven’t had anyone receive significant injuries. It’s creating hysteria and a perilous adventure just to go feed your family at the supermarket.”

Cases of self-contamination would also be treated as food contamination, which was “a serious offence” and could carry 10 years’ jail, he said.

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EXCLUSIVE @7NewsSydney @7NewsBrisbane@NSWPolice is investigating the discovery of a needle inserted into an apple in Sydney’s north-west.
More to come.


A metal detector has been installed at a fruit wholesaler in Western Australia after strawberries contaminated with needles were reported four times over the past two days.

On Tuesday, police said they had received reports of needles being discovered in strawberries in the Perth suburbs of Kelmscott, Spearwood and Bull Creek.

Queensland industry development officer Jennifer Rowling said the sabotage has attracted global media attention and countries are now blocking imports of Aussie fruit.

“This issue has attracted attention as far away as Russia and the UK, and as a result a number of our trade partners have either already blocked Australian strawberry imports or are talking about doing so,” she said.

Earlier today, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced a $1 million fund to help farmers struggling with the strawberry needle crisis.

Ms Palaszczuk said the money would be used to promote the state’s strawberries, to investigate how to improve traceability and integrity in the supply chain, and to support growers for the remainder of this season.

“This past week, Queensland has been the victim of an ugly, calculated and despicable crime,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“The sabotage of our strawberry industry is not just an attack on hardworking growers and workers, but it reaches into almost every home and school lunch box.”

There are approximately 150 strawberry growers in Queensland, with most production around Dayboro, Beerwah, Wamuran, Elimbah, Caboolture, Stanthorpe and Bundaberg.

The value of Queensland strawberries for 2017—18 was forecast to be $160 million. Growers produce around 15,000 tonnes of fruit per season, or up to 60 million punnets of strawberries.

“Strawberry farmers say their banks have already been on the phone to them,” Ms Palaszczuk said. “I urge those banks to act responsibly and with compassion.”

A thin piece of metal seen among a punnet of strawberries found in Queensland.

A thin piece of metal seen among a punnet of strawberries found in Queensland.Source:AAP

Ms Palaszczuk reminded Queenslanders to cut up any strawberries before consumption.

“This funding boost for growers follows my government’s approval of a $100,000 reward from the Queensland Police Service for information leading to an arrest.

“I call on anyone with information on the culprits to come forward — think what damage could have been done if a toddler had been handed a piece of contaminated fruit.”

Yesterday, it was revealed the contamination scare has now spread the length of the country, with authorities in Western Australia confirming the state’s first case.

A member of the public went to York Police Station, west of Perth, to report the discovery on Monday afternoon.

The strawberries in question were “produced and packaged in Western Australia”, the spokesman said, although the brand has not yet been released.

Empty shelves, normally stocked with strawberry punnets, are seen at a Coles Supermarket in Brisbane last week. Picture: AAP

Empty shelves, normally stocked with strawberry punnets, are seen at a Coles Supermarket in Brisbane last week. Picture: AAPSource:AAP

Growers are working hard to get the fruit back on supermarket shelves, with some suppliers taking the drastic measure of installing metal detectors on their conveyor belts.

In WA, a supplier that puts around one-third of the state’s strawberries onto the shelves of Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and IGA has forked out tens of thousands of dollars on a metal detector.

Canning Vale market agent Allstates Farms paid $30,000 for the device which local farmers hope will help the crippled industry.

“Strawberries are scanned and it will stop if there is any metal present,” quality control manager Manjeet Singh told PerthNow .

“It means people can buy these strawberries with confidence.

“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.”

The sabotage has had a devastating effect on the industry. Picture: AAP/Image Steve Pohlner

The sabotage has had a devastating effect on the industry. Picture: AAP/Image Steve PohlnerSource:News Corp Australia

The strawberry industry has been in chaos since the first discovery of a needle in a punnet of strawberries bought in Burpengary in Queensland more than a week ago.

In that case, a man who bit into a strawberry with a needle inside it and ended up in hospital.

Since then, needles or pins have been reported in strawberries in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT.

Affected brands include Berry Obsession, Berry Licious, Love Berry, Donnybrook Berries, Delightful Strawberries and Oasis.

A nationwide manhunt is under way for the culprit or culprits responsible for the numerous cases of deliberate contamination.

Consumers are urged to cut up any strawberries before eating them.

—with Frank Chung and AAP

This is a horrible situation for the country and there are some severe choking hazards that could occur. Please learn how to treat choking by booking in to  a first aid course in Canberra.