Needle crisis spreads to apples
THE strawberry contamination saga is worsening, with dangerous objects now being found in other types of fruit and false reports of children biting into needles.
Police are investigating an incident where a needle was found in an apple in Sydney's north-west and another in a banana in Bankstown yesterday. Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty of NSW Police said there were also reports today a needle had been found in fruit at a school in the northern part of the state.
That news comes amid reports a child bit into a strawberry containing a needle at a Brisbane school today, but that case turned out to be a false claim.
"IT'S AN ACT OF TREACHERY"
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," he said.
"It's an act of treachery on the community of NSW and across the nation."
Police have ruled out reports of a strawberry contamination incident at a school on the southside of Brisbane today. Urgent inquiries conducted into the allegation determined a false report had been made. We are confident no products have been contaminated in this instance.— Queensland Police (@QldPolice) September 18, 2018
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 were receiving information through Crime Stoppers.
Earlier the Queensland Premier announced a $1 million fund to help farmers struggling with the strawberry needle crisis.
Annastacia Palaszczuk 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.
"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 hard-working 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 is forecast to be $160 million. Growers produce 6-15,000 tonnes of fruit per season, up to 60 million punnets of strawberries.
"Strawberry farmers say their banks have already been on the phone to them," the Premier said.
"I urge those banks to act responsibly and with compassion."
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."
The strawberry 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 man told police he spotted a needle in his kitchen sink after preparing strawberries for his family.
"He did not recall the needle being in the sink prior to preparing the strawberries," a WA Police spokesman said.
The strawberries in question were "produced and packaged in Western Australia", the spokesman said, although the brand has not yet been released.
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 news came just minutes before authorities in South Australia confirmed a second case there, with a needle found in a punnet of Mal's Black Label strawberries purchased from Adelaide Fresh Fruiterers in Morphett Vale.
A consumer discovered a metal object embedded in one of the strawberries when cutting into it, police said.
Yesterday, a seven-year-old girl from the Adelaide Hills was lucky to escape serious injury when she bit into a strawberry containing a hidden sewing needle.
"She bit into one of the strawberries and discovered a needle, which she told her mum about," Detective Inspector Billy Thompson told reporters today.
"The father took the strawberries to the store in Littlehampton, reported it to the manager, who in turn advised that the matter should be reported to police."
That batch of the fruit originated in WA, forcing the state's Health Minister Roger Cook to insist this morning that people should be "very confident" about local strawberries.
"There has been no incident of tampering of strawberry products in WA," he told reporters today, just hours before the needle discovery in Perth.
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