Hunt grows for prickly culprit

By Country News

The search for the culprits inserting needles into strawberries is spreading after more punnets of contaminated fruit were found in South Australia and NSW.

It is feared copycats might be behind the latest discoveries inside supermarket strawberries, with consumers warned to continue to cut up any fruit not on the recall list before eating it.

Numerous needles and pins have been found in the fruit across the country, prompting the Federal Government to announce it was examining the states’ handling of the problem.

The latest contaminated batch was detected in Woodville, outside Newcastle in NSW.

The punnet of Wallace Road strawberries was bought from Coles at the nearby Stockland Greenhills shopping centre, NSW Police have said.

Authorities hope a $100000 reward for information offered by the Queensland Government will lead to the capture of the culprit or culprits.

NSW detectives were due to meet on Monday to share information as they work to figure out the origin of the contamination.

The sabotage spread to South Australia on the weekend, with a needle found in a punnet of Mal’s Black Label strawberries on Sunday.

Tasmania police are also investigating the possible contamination of a punnet bought at a Woolworths in Hobart.

The discovery came as Coles and Aldi supermarkets pulled all strawberries from their shelves across the country, except Western Australia, as a precaution.

Berry Obsession, Berry Licious and Donnybrook Berries have recalled their strawberries nationwide.

Police are also investigating contamination of fruit sold by Delightful Strawberries, Love Berries and Oasis in stores in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and the ACT.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has ordered the national food safety watchdog to assess the states’ handling of strawberry contamination.

‘‘This is a very vicious crime and it’s a general attack on the public, and it’s also an attack on a specific industry,’’ Mr Hunt said.

A health warning to throw out or cut up strawberries remains in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and SA.

‘‘Remember, if in doubt, throw them out. Otherwise, make sure you chop before you chomp,’’ Queensland chief health officer Jeanette Young said.

Meanwhile, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has lashed out at her state’s strawberry saboteur as a $100000 reward is offered for information leading to their capture.

Queensland acting chief superintendent Terry Lawrence said there was no link between the Donnybrook berry contamination and the Berry Obsession and Berry Licious cases.