Inspect those berries, Australia
Strawberries might not seem like a very scary fruit, but in Australia, officials are warning shoppers to slice up and inspect their strawberries before eating them after needles have been found the fruit across the country.
Far from an isolated incident, needles have been reported in berries in all six Australian states, ensnaring a shocking six different brands. The extent to which all these incidents are connected or whether many of the needles are the result of copycat crimes is still to be determined. Regardless, Australian Heath Minister Greg Hunt condemned the entire situation. “This is a very vicious crime and it's a general attack on the public,” he said, according to the BBC.
As a result, strawberries have been pulled from store shelves, packages have been recalled, and New Zealand stopped selling strawberries from Australia.
It all began over a week ago, when a man in the northeastern state of Queensland was sent to the hospital after biting into a strawberry with a needle inside. After days of additional incidents, today, two separate reports of needles in strawberries in Western Australia emerged, meaning the scare had officially reached every part of the country.
But authorities aren’t sure where these needles are coming from. As a result, Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has offered a reward of AUD$100,000 (about USD$72,000) for information. “Someone is trying to sabotage the industry but also in doing that, they are putting babies’ and children’s and families’ lives at risk,” she said, according to the Independent.
Last week, the Queensland Strawberry Growers' Association suggested the needles may have come from a “disgruntled employee,” but more recently, Neil Handasyde, president of the Strawberry Growers Association of Western Australia, said he doesn’t think farmers are to blame. Still, they were looking for ways to solve the issue anyway. “As an industry, we are sure that [the needles] are not coming from the farm, but we’re trying to get confidence into consumers that when they buy … strawberries, that there isn’t going to be anything other than strawberries in there and they’re safe to eat,” he was quoted as saying. “[We] are looking at lots of different ways of tackling this issue. There’s been metal detectors purchased and tamper-proof packaging looked at.”
But regardless of these measures, many are already worrying about the future of Australia’s large strawberry industry. “Whoever is behind this is not just putting families at risk across Queensland and the rest of Australia—they are putting an entire industry at risk,” Palaszczuk said.