A $100,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for contaminating Queensland strawberries with sewing needles as the crisis spreads to South Australia and Tasmania.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the reward on the weekend, saying whoever is responsible is putting the state’s $160 million strawberry industry at risk.
Punnets of contaminated fruit have now been found in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, involving six brands. There are now been 11 reported contamination incidents.
The brands involved are Berry Obsession, Berry Licious, Love Berry, Donnybrook Berries, Delightful Strawberries, and Oasis.
The criminal incident began last weekend, initially with two brands, Berry Obsession and Berry Licious, from a single supplier, after needles were found in strawberries purchased in NSW and Queensland.
Industry body the Strawberry Growers Association blamed a disgruntled ex-employee for those incidents, but Queensland police say they have yet to identify a suspect and are “keeping a very open mind” as they seek to interview more than 100 people involved in the supply chain.
The Queensland brands Berry Obsession, Berry Licious, and Donnybrook Berries have now been recalled nationwide.
Coles and Aldi have removed strawberries from sale in all their supermarkets, with the exception of Western Australia.
Authorities are warning consumers in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory to throw away the affected punnets or return to the place of purchase.
Investigators have yet to determine whether the latest incidents are copycat attacks after a punnet of strawberries bought from an Adelaide Hills supermarket on Saturday, supplied from Mal’s Black Label strawberries Western Australia, reportedly had a need found in it on Sunday.
Tasmania Police said they were contacted by a Woolworths at Rosny Park in Hobart on Sunday evening over strawberries allegedly contaminated with a needle being reported on social media. The fruit was purchased from the supermarket earlier on Sunday.
“As the products have yet to be forensically examined, it is unknown if the contamination is related to the ongoing incident in Queensland or a copycat,” Tasmania Police said.
“All relevant information is being collated in each state and provided to Queensland authorities to assist with their ongoing investigation.”
Information can be provided by calling Tasmania Police on 131 444 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
NSW Police say they are continuing to liaise with retailers to ensure that all stock from the affected dates have been removed from sale, having received reports of contaminated strawberries purchased at supermarkets at Tweed Heads, Taree, and Wingham.
Consumers are being urged to cut every strawberry before eating it as a precautionary measure.
There are approximately 150 strawberry growers in Queensland, producing up to 15,000 tonnes of fruit per season – around 60 million punnets of strawberries.
The criminal contamination of strawberries could attract a jail term of up to 10 years.