There’s a lot happening with fruit lately.
Nationwide reports of strawberries contaminated with needles began to emerge last week, with a development today of isolated accounts involving apples and bananas.
Investigations are still underway, and while it is suspected a disgruntled strawberry farm employee was behind the first reported incident, the ensuing cases in neighbouring states have been copycats in what is being labelled ‘commercial terrorism’ by fruit growers.
While a health warning still remains for consumers to cut up or throw out strawberries they’ve purchased, the fruit growing industry faces a potentially multi-million dollar blow as products are pulled from local shelves and exports banned by international trade partners.
Here’s what’s happening:
How it all started.
Last Wednesday, health officials and police said sewing needles were hidden in at least three punnets of strawberries supplied to Woolworths from a southeast Queensland farm.
Following the Queensland investigation, two people in Victoria came forward with similar experiences.
Sewing needles have since been found in strawberries in all six states, with eight incidents in NSW, six in Victoria, four in Queensland, four in WA, three in SA and one in Tasmania.
Today, news.com.au reported a woman found a needle in a Pink Lady apple purchased from Woolworths. Woolworths has been advised by the NSW Department of Health not to remove the apples from their shelves for now as investigations continue.
NSW Police also said there were “isolated” reports of bananas and apples in the Sydney area being contaminated, and according to Seven News, they are investigating a complaint about a needle found inside a banana at a grocery store in Condell Park.
So far only one person is believed to have swallowed part of a needle – a 21-year-old man from Burpengary in Queensland.
Brands and supermarkets affected.
According to reports, eight separate brands of strawberries have been contaminated: Berry Obsession, Berry Licious, Love Berry, Donnybrook Berries, Delightful Strawberries, Oasis, Mal’s Black Label and Pinata.
Berry Obsession, Berry Licious and Donnybrook Berries have recalled their strawberries nationwide.
Coles and Aldi have both pulled all strawberries from their shelves, except in Western Australia.
Woolworths confirmed it had removed the Oasis, Love Berry, Berry Obsession, Berry Licious and Donnybrook brands from its shelves.
What are strawberry farmers saying?
Queensland Strawberry Growers Association vice president Adrian Schultz has labelled the issue “commercial terrorism”.
“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.
While a farmer in Queensland says he will install a metal detector to check his produce, others are destroying their crops, rather than pick them, to save money, The Courier-Mail reported.
Stephanie Chheang, the daughter of Donnybrook Berries co-owner Leena Lee Cufari, shared footage of the impact the ongoing scare has had on her family’s Queensland business. A truckload of fruit, dumped – just in case.
“This is no doubt the worst thing to ever happen to my family,” she wrote on Facebook. “This here is worth more then you could ever imagine and within three days we lost it all.
“My mum and my stepdad 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.”