When it comes to the sadistic placement of sharp objects in food, most of us are quick to think of the un-killable, decades-long rumors of Halloween candy spiked with razor blades or rat poison. But, as we explored just a few weeks ago, these whisperings and scattered local news reports are largely the work of media sensationalism and perhaps naughty, attention-seeking children—not a legitimate conspiracy.
On Canada's Maritime province of Prince Edward Island, however, the food-tampering concerns are far more justifiable. In the past month and a half, there have been seven incidents spread through Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Labrador, in which sewing needles were found in potatoes and french fries originating from PEI, clearly planted intentionally. (With exactly what intent, other than to scratch or stab potato eaters at random, is unclear.)
The potatoes in question were sold in various areas of the province, but most originated from Linkletter Farms, a centuries-old potato farm in the town of Summerside. (The farm has since issued a recall.) There were also sewing needles found in french fries from a nearby company, Cavendish Farms, though the fries didn't make it past factory walls due to safety protocols and never hit store freezers—thankfully for consumers.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are now involved, and the Prince Edward Island Potato Board is so concerned about this rash of potato mutilations that it's offering a reward of up to $50,000 to anyone who can offer information that can help identify the culprits. (The money is being provided by local potato growers.) In a recent news release announcing the reward, the board states, "The recent food tampering case with needles put in potatoes at Linkletter Farms has left our industry feeling shocked … and is unacceptable for ourselves and the general public." The reward will be upheld through January 31 of the new year, and tips to claim it cannot be made anonymously; the actual cash rewarded will be contingent on whether the information called in actually results in an arrest.
Greg Donald, general manager of the board, has stated that although the potato industry has not seen a marked drop in sales since publicity of the needle incidents, there will be increased efforts within the industry to improve food safety.
With a significant reward now in place, the board and local farms hope to resolve the incident swiftly and without injury to consumers (none have been reported so far). Whether or not there will be other types of repercussions—such as that of rumor mania—has yet to be determined.
As with America's cultural affinity for razor-laden-candy stories, news of the needles has spread fast through Canada—and already beyond PEI. On Friday, a sewing needle was found in a potato in Ottawa, some 830 miles away, though Ottawa Police are not convinced that the incident was connected with the epidemic on PEI. Regardless, the RCMP and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will continue to investigate.
And if a friend of yours is the potato needler, now might be a convenient time to throw them under the bus.
Anyone with information about the incidents is asked to contact the RCMP at 902-436-9300.