Queensland police are investigating a potential copycat incident as they hunt for a culprit who put sewing needles in strawberries.
An employee at a Coles supermarket in Gatton discovered a small metal rod laying across the top of some strawberries inside a plastic punnet on Thursday, less than a day after it was revealed needles had been found hidden inside strawberries sold at Woolworths.
Police are investigating the latest incident amid the suspicion that it is an attempted copycat scenario. Sunshine Coast strawberry farmer Adrian Schultz said with many farmers already struggling after a tough season, the fear of copycat incidents affecting sales was a concern.
“A copycat scenario could exacerbate the situation … with an event like this, it could see everybody stop picking.”
A spokesperson for Coles told Inside FMCG: “Coles takes the safety of the food we sell seriously. The safety of our customers is our priority and anyone concerned about their health should seek medical advice. It is safe to purchase Coles strawberries but until advised, Queensland Health has warned people should cut up strawberries before consuming them. This advice currently applies to all strawberries.”
Police have also confirmed a fourth case relating to the needles after a young boy in Gladstone ended up with a needle in his mouth on Tuesday after taking strawberries to school.
Angela Stevenson says she was chopping up fruit for her baby when she found a needle embedded in a berry. Realising her son had strawberries in his lunch box she immediately called his school.
“I said I need you to stop him from eating the strawberries. It wasn’t five minutes later they rang back and said it was too late, he’d actually bitten into it,” she told ABC radio.
“Luckily he pulled it back out of his mouth and told the teacher.”
So far four contaminated punnets have been found – two in Queensland and two in Victoria.
The Queensland Strawberry Growers Association says a disgruntled farm worker may be responsible, as the two brands affected, Berry Obsession and Berrylicious, came from the same farm, but police doubt that theory.
“We’re not agreeing with that at all at this particular point in time,” Queensland Acting Chief Superintendent Terry Lawrence said.
“We’re not going to get into speculation. We’re keeping a very open mind as to where this may have occurred somewhere between the actual growing of the strawberry through to the completion of the production line and going even further through to distribution and going on to the shelves.”
Health authorities are urging people to cut up strawberries to make sure they are safe to eat and police want anyone who finds a needle to contact them.