Qld police hunt for berry saboteur

Disgruntled worker could be to blame: Police


NSW, Queensland and Victorian supplies affected.


Police hunting for the culprit who put sewing needles in strawberries are investigating whether a disgruntled worker could be to blame.

Sewing needles have been found hidden inside strawberries sold at Woolworths, sparking a recall of two brands that had been sold in Queensland, NSW and Victoria.

Queensland mother Angela Stevenson says her son, 9, ended up with a needle in his mouth on Tuesday after taking strawberries to school. And she almost fed another berry that had a needle in it to her 12-month-old baby.

Ms Stevenson, from Gladstone, 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."

Ms Stevenson's thankful she didn't hand her baby a whole strawberry, as she sometimes does.

"It's horrible. It's sick," she said.

Queensland man Hoani Hearne ended in hospital after swallowing part of a needle and developing severe abdominal pain on Sunday.

"I bit straight in - kneejerk reaction was to swallow - and yeah it wasn't a pleasant surprise," the 21-year-old has told Nine Network.

So far four contaminated punnets have been found - two in Queensland and two in Victoria.

The Queensland Strawberry Growers Association says early indications are that a disgruntled farm worker may be responsible.

The two brands affected, Berry Obsession and Berrylicious, came from the same farm.

Police will talk to the association about its suspicions.

"We will talk with them to see if they have any information to assist us," Queensland Acting Chief Superintendent Terry Lawrence has told Nine Network.

Police are checking every step of the production chain.

Health authorities are telling people to ditch any affected berries bought between September 5-8, or cut them open to make sure they are safe to eat.

The QSGA's Jennifer says growers are devastated.

"We just really want to reinforce that it was one farm that's been affected - the two labels within the one farm, and all those strawberries have been pulled off the shelves," she told ABC radio.

"We're hoping people can see this for what it is, and that is an isolated incident.

"(It is) suspected that someone like a disgruntled employee may have done something."

Customers are being reassured berries purchased from Thursday are safe.

The contaminated punnets were purchased in Kirkwood in Gladstone, at the Strathpine Centre north of Brisbane, at Yarram in Victoria's Gippsland region, and at Sebastopol, a southern suburb of Ballarat, also in Victoria.

Woolworths has encouraged its customers to return suspect products for a full refund.

Australian Associated Press


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