Strawberry needle contamination: Woolworths dumps needle sales after fruit-spiking cases

Contaminated strawberries have now been found across five states. Courtesy: ABC

Woolworths has pulled sewing needles from its shelves amid ongoing cases of fruit contamination.

In a statement, the supermarket giant confirmed it had taken the precautionary step of temporarily removing sewing needles from sale at all its stores.

A spokeswoman said the safety of customers was its top priority.

Police are investigating more than 100 reports of needle-tampering cases across the country, many of which are suspected copycat cases or hoaxes, and involve strawberries, bananas and apples.

On Wednesday, the Federal Government announced new laws would be introduced so people contaminating strawberries face more jail time.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison described those who have hidden needles in fruit as “cowards” and “grubs”, urging people to continuing buying strawberries with care.

The new laws increase the maximum prison term for those found guilty of contaminating food from 10 to 15 years.

A significant number of the needles were discovered by children and toddlers eating the fruit, and authorities are urging consumers to ensure all fruit is chopped into pieces to eat.

Police cooperate across state borders

Contaminated strawberries have now been found across five states and investigations are ongoing, with police in multiple states sharing information with Queensland authorities — where the first case originated.

The West Australian Government was the first on Tuesday to offer a $100,000 reward for information leading to the needle offenders.

Queensland and New South Wales have also announced a $100,000 reward.

Tasmania has also been significantly affected, with one of the latest cases involving a pin found in an apple bought at Woolworths in the southern Tasmanian town of Huonville.

The Huon Valley is a major fruit-growing centre and local growers have also urged consumers to chop up fruit before eating.

In the case of the contaminated apple, a nine-year-old boy found the needle in the fruit, which had already been chopped in half.

A piece of metal was also found in another apple in the suburb of Howrah on Hobart’s eastern shore, and police are investigating the discovery of a two-centimetre piece of metal in a strawberry in Kingston.

Detectives are conducting forensic tests on the fruit.

Needles have also been discovered in apples and bananas in other states.

Many of the original reports were linked to fruit from Queensland producers and the State Government has announced a $1 million fund to investigate gaps in the fruit supply chain.

The fund comes on top of another $1 million allocated to a strawberry farmer assistance fund.

As well as mounting economic costs, the fruit contamination issue is also placing extra pressure on police resources across all affected states.

In Queensland, more than 100 police, including 60 detectives are now assigned to the strawberry contamination case.