A Disgruntled former employee is suspected of sabotaging strawberries with sewing needles in a move that has sparked health alerts in three states.
Health authorities are warning people who have bought strawberries in Queensland, NSW and Victoria to throw suspect punnets out after several incidents of needles being found in strawberries sold at Woolworths.
Queensland Health and police today urged people who bought strawberries sold under the brands Berry Obsession and Berry Licious across the eastern seaboard in the past week to throw them out, after three separate incidents in Queensland and Victoria.
They are sold at Woolworths and possibly other outlets. A product recall was under way.
Police suspect the ground-down needles were deliberately planted in the punnets, with the culprit intending to cause “grievous bodily harm or other objectives”.
The Queensland Strawberry Growers Association released a statement this evening saying it had reason to suspect a disgruntled ex-employee may be responsible for the sabotage.
“(The association) is waiting on more information from Queensland police on this matter and will update the Australian public as news becomes available to us,” it said.
A 21-year-old man from Burpengary north of Brisbane ended up in hospital after he swallowed part of a needle when he bit into a strawberry bought from Strathpine in Brisbane’s north on Sunday.
Two more incidents were confirmed in Victoria: in Yarram by a customer and in Sebastopol, near Ballarat, by management.
“When I bit into one I felt like a sharp snap and my knee jerk reaction was to swallow and what was left was half a sewing needle,” said the Burpengary man.
“I’m just in shock, you don’t expect that.”
The young man said he suffered abdominal pain after swallowing the needle but that when he had an Xray at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital nothing was found.
It’s believed the strawberries were sourced from two farms on the Sunshine Coast.
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon Queensland Health chief health officer Jeanette Young urged people to throw out any strawberries they may have bought in the last week.
“If they’ve bought strawberries in Queensland, NSW and Victoria since early last week they should dispose of them,” she said.
In a police statement issued later, she referred to just the Berry Obsession and Berry Licious fruit.
“Any strawberries that you are certain are not the brands Berry Licious and Berry Obsession, are safe,” she said in the statement.
Dr Young said swallowing a needle could seriously injure someone.
“It could get caught up in the gut,” she said.
Police believe they have contained the threat but wouldn’t say whether the culprits have been identified.
Consumers will be able to safely buy strawberries again from tomorrow when stock is replaced.
A Woolworths spokesperson said the brand has been withdrawn from shelves wherever they are supplied.
“Woolworths takes food safety very seriously and is working closely with authorities as they investigate this matter,” said the spokesperson.
“We have withdrawn Berry Obsession and Berry Licious branded strawberries from sale while this incident is being investigated with our suppliers.
“Customers are advised to return these products to their local Woolworths for a full refund.”
Queensland Police said an investigation is underway.
A Victoria Police spokeswoman said fraud and extortion detectives were assisting Queensland Police with their investigations.
Police are urging anyone who locates strawberries containing the needles to contact Policelink for further advice on 131 444.