Whoever’s responsible for placing needles in strawberries, an apple and a banana across NSW is “causing hysteria” and hurting growers, a furious detective says.
NSW Police on Tuesday confirmed needles had been found in an apple and a banana purchased from separate Sydney stores.
Needles have also been found in more than 20 punnets of strawberries across NSW from Tweed Heads to Albury, Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty told reporters.
Investigators say it’s too early to tell if copycats are now making the crisis worse but, regardless of motive, anyone found guilty of food contamination faces up to 10 years in jail.
“The consequences are dire. It is a hazardous action and really it’s an act of treachery against the community of NSW and the nation,” Det Sup Doherty said.
“You are still causing alarm and anxiety to the public. You are causing economic loss to an industry. You are creating hysteria and making it a perilous adventure just to go and buy some fruit at a supermarket and feed your family.”
Needles have been found in strawberries in every Australian state, and New Zealand announced this week it would pull the Australian-grown fruit from its supermarket shelves.
The stepdaughter of the owner of one of the affected farms, Queensland’s Donnybrook Berries, Stephanie Chheang, has posted a confronting video on Facebook showing the scale of food waste resulting from the string of sabotage incidents – with mini-mountains of dumped strawberries.
“This is no doubt the worst thing to ever happen to my family. This here is a video of our strawberries being dumped. This here is worth more then you could ever imagine and within three days we lost it all,” she wrote.
This is no doubt the worst thing to ever happen to my family. This here is a video of our strawberries being dumped, this here is worth more then you could ever imagine and within 3 days we lost it all. My mum Leena Lee Cufari and my step dad has worked years to build the empire they’re sitting on now, they put all their money and effort in to build such a successful business. They work hard to make the money for our family and to have these selfish individuals destroy it is just so upsetting. My mum works day through to the night, controlling the shed and her 250 employees, making sure her strawberries are packed to perfection. This will not stop my family from doing what they do best, if anything they’re going to do better. I thank everyone who supports us and all the other farmers who were affected by this horrible issue. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts ❤️*** To everyone who does not know, this is due to the needle contamination. We have to throw them out because the markets wouldnt take our strawberries due to the needle scare.** video produced from Donnybrook Berries** Donnybrook berries will be adding precaution and putting in metal detectors and other safety equipment we can think of to give our consumers the best quality strawberries.
Posted by Stephanie Chheang on Monday, September 17, 2018
A metal object was found in a banana in a Queensland supermarket on Monday, but police said it was an isolated incident related to a mental health issue.
Woolworths is aware of a report of a Sydney customer finding a needle on Tuesday morning in a Pink Lady apple bought in a six pack at The Ponds.
A Kellyville Ridge mother reportedly found the needle when peeling an apple for her daughters.
“I just thought wow this can’t possibly be happening,” she told the Seven Network.
A Woolworths spokesman told AAP in a statement: “The details have been referred to the authorities, leading the response to this matter and we’ll consult with them on next steps.”
Police are also investigating after a needle was reportedly found on Monday in a banana bought from a grocery store in Condell Park.
Health warnings to throw out or cut up strawberries remain in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia.
Queensland Health and Queensland Police are leading the national investigation.
This week, some farmers have said they will install metal detectors to check fruit for potential contamination.
Glass House Mountains farmer Leonard Smith said metal detectors would cost him $30,000. But he hoped installing them would mean he could get the rest of his season’s fruit back onto supermarket shelves.
“I need to get them in service in weeks so I can pay some debt off so I don’t have to have some uncomfortable conversations,” Mr Smith told The Courier-Mail.
Donnybrook Berries has also said it will install metal detectors and other safety equipment.
Queensland Strawberry Growers’ Association vice-president Adrian Schultz said “commercial terrorism” was bringing the industry to its knees.
“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,” he said.
Anthony Sarks, owner of Ricardoes Tomatoes & Strawberries in Port Macquarie, had a novel plan to avoid wasting his crops.
“I have teamed up with others and we’re going to be making strawberry jam,” he said.
“It’s a strategic alliance to try to overcome the excess fruit problems by turning it into a value-added product.”
Even federal Health Minister Greg Hunt climbed on the bandwagon yesterday, tweeting his support for the farmers.
— Greg Hunt (@GregHuntMP) September 17, 2018
Meanwhile, the Queensland government announced on Tuesday it would spend $1 million to help the strawberry industry.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the money would be used to promote the quality of Queensland-grown strawberries, boost integrity in the supply chain and assist growers throughout the rest of the 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,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“The community needs to come together and help police catch those responsible and restore our industry to the place of pride it deserves.”