- More than 100 reports of needles hidden in fruit rocked Australia in September.
- Now the problem appears to have gone international: A man said he found a thin piece of wire in a punnet of strawberries in Singapore, and needles were found in strawberries in Auckland, New Zealand.
- Singapore’s largest supermarket chain, FairPrice, stopped importing Australian strawberries on Monday, according to The New Paper, a Singaporean newspaper.
- The Australian government changed its laws last week to raise the maximum prison sentence for people who contaminate food and for those who participate in related hoaxes or pranks.
Strawberries containing sharp metal or needles have reportedly been discovered in New Zealand and Singapore – the first reports outside Australia, where officials say more than 100 people have reported finding them during September.
The Straits Times reported on Sunday that a man said he found a sharp metal wire in a punnet of strawberries bought at a Mahota grocery store in Singapore on September 18. The report described a Singaporean supplier as saying the batch sold to the store was from Perth, Australia, about 2,400 miles from Singapore.
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore is looking into the case, The Straits Times reported.
On Monday, Singapore’s largest supermarket chain, FairPrice, stopped importing Australian strawberries, according to The New Paper, a Singaporean newspaper.
The New Paper also reported that Sheng Siong, another large supermarket chain in Singapore, requested that suppliers use metal detectors to check each punnet of strawberries.
Closer to Australia, a New Zealand TV station reported on Sunday that needles were found in one punnet of strawberries sold at a Countdown store in Auckland. CNN later reported that the supermarket chain stopped importing strawberries from Choice, an Australian brand, as a result.
Officials say there have been over 100 reports, across every Australian state, of needles and sharp metal objects hidden in strawberries, an apple, a banana, and a mango, since a man in Queensland reported finding a needle in a strawberry on September 9.
On September 19, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said anybody who hid a needle in a strawberry was “a coward and a grub.”
“It’s not a joke. It’s not funny,” he told reporters. “You are putting the livelihoods of hardworking Australians at risk, and you are scaring children.”
He added: “And if you do that sort of thing in this country, we will come after you, and we will throw the book at you.”
The Australian government changed its laws last week to raise the maximum prison sentence to 15 years for people found to have contaminated food and to 10 years for those found to have participated in related hoaxes or pranks.
People in Australia are trying to support strawberry farmers by finding new ways to eat strawberries safely, like cutting them with an egg slicer.
The governments of Western Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland offered a reward of 100,000 Australian dollars, or $US72,000, for information.
Officials said on September 19 that they had arrested one person in connection with the phenomenon.
“In the last two days we found a young person has admitted to a prank, including putting needles in strawberries, and he’ll be dealt with under the youth cautioning system,” Stuart Smith, a senior officer in the New South Wales police force, said at the time, according to News.com.au.
Australia’s biggest supermarket chain, Woolworths, announced on Thursday that it was temporarily removing sewing needles from its 995 branches.
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