The Australian strawberry industry has been dealt another blow after the needle tampering scandal spread to a punnet of fruit in New Zealand over the weekend.
New Zealand supermarket chain Countdown, which is owned by Australian group Woolworths, has withdrawn the Choice brand of Australian strawberries after a customer in Auckland found needles in the product.
The fruit was sourced from Western Australia, on the opposite side of the country to where the crisis began in Southeast Queensland. It is not yet clear where the contamination occurred in the supply chain.
“At Countdown we take food safety very seriously and we have withdrawn any remaining Choice strawberries from sale from Countdown, SuperValue and FreshChoice supermarkets while we investigate this with our suppliers,” Countdown said in a statement.
“Customers can return any Choice brand of strawberries they may have at home to Countdown for peace of mind and a full refund.
“As an extra precaution and following similar advice from public health authorities in Australia, customers should cut up any Australian strawberries before eating them.”
The chain emphasized there had been no reports of illness or injury in New Zealand, and that it was in contact with both New Zealand and Australian authorities as they investigate this matter.
“This does not affect New Zealand strawberries which are now on our shelves,” the chain clarified.
After the scandal hit, Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources enforced interim control measures for strawberry exports with a “nil tolerance” approach to metal contaminants.
In a statement given to Freshfruitportal.com, a spokesperson for the department said New Zealand authorities were investigating the report, and “at this stage it is unverified”.
“This product would have been exported before the stronger export control requirements were implemented and enforced,” the spokesperson said.
“The Department is confident these stronger measures are managing the risk and providing assurances to trading partners.”
On Friday, police in South Australia charged an Adelaide man for making a false report about purchasing contaminated strawberries from a metropolitan supermarket. The 34-year-old is set to appear before the Adelaide Magistrates Court on Oct. 24.
“Police wish to advise the public that serious penalties apply for making false claims to police, in particular, in relation to recent fruit contamination,” South Australia Police said.
The news comes after a massive demonstration of support for the industry from the Australian public, with the Queensland strawberry industry and produce association Growcom thanking everyone for the “strawberry love”.
“Growers have been overwhelmed by the community support,” the strawberry industry association and Growcom said in a joint statement.
“Be aware that it may take a little time for supply to be back to normal so don’t be angry if you see empty shelves, some other enthusiastic strawberry lover has just beaten you to it.”