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Australia

Australia’s strawberry scare spreads after needles found in fruit in New Zealand

In Australia, more than 100 alleged incidents of pins and needles found in fruit have been reported since the scare began in Queensland state earlier this month

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2018, 5:50pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2018, 5:55pm

The Australian strawberry scare has spread to New Zealand with a supermarket chain announcing on Sunday that needles were found in a box of the fruit sourced from the neighbouring country.

The Countdown supermarket chain said it had taken a brand of Australian strawberries off the shelves after a sabotaged punnet – a plastic box – was sold in an Auckland store.

The strawberries, from Western Australia state, were sold in Countdown stores nationwide last week and only one incident of tampering was reported.

“We take food safety very seriously,” the company said in a statement, adding it was in touch with authorities investigating incidents of needles found in strawberries in Australia in recent weeks.

“Customers can return any Choice brand of strawberries they may have at home to Countdown for peace of mind and a full refund.”

Countdown advised customers to cut up any Australian strawberries before eating them.

The statement said there have been no reports of any illness or injury in New Zealand.

It’s not a joke. It’s not funny. You’re putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk and you’re scaring children
Prime Minister Scott Morrison

It added that the brand of strawberries affected by this withdrawal “have not previously had any issues of this nature reported and had not been withdrawn from sale in Australia”.

In Australia, more than 100 alleged incidents of pins and needles found in fruit have been reported since the scare began in Queensland state earlier this month.

Most are thought to be pranks or jokes on social media, but at least two minors have been questioned by police for carrying out hoaxes.

Woolworths Australia, Countdown’s parent company, has withdrawn needles from sale as a “precautionary step” as police hunt for the original culprit amid a spate of copycat episodes.

The Australian government last week raised the maximum prison sentence for fruit tampering from 10 to 15 years.

A 62-year-old woman has already been caught putting a needle into a banana in Mackay, central Queensland , in what is believed to have been a copycat act.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week said new laws were required to punish the people contaminating food.

“Any idiot who thinks they can go out into a shopping centre and start sticking pins in fruit and thinks this is some sort of lark or put something on Facebook which is a hoax, that sort of behaviour is reckless and under the provision that we’ll be seeking to introduce swiftly that type of behaviour would carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison,” Morrison said.

“It’s not a joke. It’s not funny. You’re putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk and you’re scaring children. If you do that sort of thing in this country, we will come after you and we will throw the book at you.”

Additional reporting by The Guardian