This article originally appeared on VICE NZ.
Australia has been on edge ever since a 21-year-old was hospitalised after eating a strawberry with a needle deliberately planted in it. And rightfully so, as police are now investigating more than 100 contaminated-strawberry incidents over all six Australian states. Now, needles have been spotted in a punnet of strawberries from an Auckland Countdown shelf.
The person who reported the incident was lucky enough to spot the needles before anyone had eaten them. It is not yet known if it was a customer or a staff member who found the contaminated product, or specifically which Auckland Countdown store sold it.
Countdown is now advising all strawberry eaters to cut up the fruit before biting down. Or for peace of mind, customers can return the Western Australian strawberries for a full refund. As a “precautionary measure” the supermarket has stopped selling the Choice brand of strawberries at all Countdown, SuperValue and FreshChoice stores. Foodstuff has also confirmed that the distribution of all Australian strawberries to PAK’nSAVE, New World and Four Square was halted last weekend.
As for who has been doing it, Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor told RNZ it was unclear if the needles were making their way into the strawberries before or after being imported. A young New South Wales boy has been arrested after he admitted putting needles in strawberries as a “copycat prank”. But the law doesn’t excuse pranks, and in NSW the maximum penalty for deliberately contaminating a food source is 10 years in jail. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia plans to increase that to 15 years.
Queensland Police, leading the investigation into the source of the needles, have offered a reward of $100,000 for anyone with information that leads an arrest. As for New Zealand, no other needle-contaminated strawberries have yet been reported.