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14/09/18: Police investigating after needles found in Australian strawberries

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Sewing needles have been found in two brands of strawberries sold at Woolworths in four Australian states.

Queensland authorities warned people who bought the Berry Obsession and Berrylicious brands of strawberries in Queensland, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria to throw the punnets out or return to the place of purchase.

They advised that affected packs would have expired and are no longer available to purchase. However, consumers are urged to check their refrigerators and freezers for stored product and dispose of any food which may contain this product.

The Queensland Strawberry Growers Association said it had reason to suspect that a disgruntled ex-employee may be behind the incident. The group added it was waiting for more information from Queensland Police and will update the public as news becomes available.

Queensland Health issued advice applicable to all strawberries, saying the fruit is safe to purchase but until advised, consumers should cut them up before consumption.

The Queensland Police Service said it was investigating the contamination relating to sewing needles inserted in strawberries. Police are liaising with retailers to ensure that all stock is removed from sale.

Investigators said there are four contamination incidents, two each in Queensland and Victoria. Australian media reported a man in Queensland was hospitalized after swallowing part of a needle and developing abdominal pain.

Queensland’s chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said anyone else who had bought the brands of strawberries without signs of tampering should return them to the store or throw them away.

“While it is expected that berries picked early last week would now not be useable, many people freeze the fruit for later use. If you are in doubt, just throw them out. Any strawberries bought from 13 September are safe. Any strawberries that you are certain are not the brands Berry Licious and Berry Obsession, are safe,” she said.

She added there was no reason to stop eating strawberries but the public needed to be aware of the incident.

Woolworths said it takes food safety very seriously and is working closely with authorities as they investigate. The supermarket withdrew Berry Obsession and Berrylicious branded strawberries from sale and advised consumers to return these products to their local branch for a full refund.

Police are also making inquiries into a suspected copycat incident as part of the investigation into the contamination of strawberries in Queensland.

The incident, reported at a supermarket in Gatton, involves the discovery of a thin metal object in a punnet of strawberries. Acting Detective Chief Superintendent Terry Lawrence said this appeared to be a copycat incident, but police are keeping an open mind.

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