“If this year’s Halloween follows form, a few children will return home with something more than an upset tummy,” Newsweek warned in 1975. “In recent years, several children have died and hundreds have narrowly escaped injury from razor blades, sewing needles, and shards of glass purposefully put into their goodies by adults.”
If you trick-or-treated even once as a kid, your parents probably worried about razor blades in apples, or maybe even sliced open your Reese’s Cups before you were allowed to eat yourself into a once-a-year sugar coma. Those stories were largely based on urban legends that were repeated every October, and some widely reported hoaxes perpetrated by both kids and their parents. (One of the few verifiably real incidents happened in 2000, when a Minneapolis man was arrested for putting needles in Snickers bars that he passed out to kids).
But Australia currently has a very real—and very dangerous—problem with a person (or group of people) who have pushed needles into strawberries, and at least two copycats have been caught trying to contaminate other pieces of fruit. According to Reuters, authorities are investigating more than 100 incidents of needles in strawberries; at least six Australian states have been affected. The first known case involved a 21-year-old who was hospitalized after swallowing a needle that had been put into a strawberry.
On Thursday, Australia’s parliament voted to increase the prison term to 15 years for anyone convicted of tampering with food, and increased the maximum sentence for faking a food-tampering incident to ten years in prison. “I’m just focused on making sure no idiot goes into a supermarket this weekend and does something ridiculous,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. “We’ve booked the hall in parliament for the day, we’ve paid the rent on it, and that means no one goes home until those bills are passed.” (Morrison also called the fruit-tamperer “a coward and a grub.”)
That same day, Woolworths—one of the country’s biggest supermarket chains—announced that it would be temporarily suspending the sales of sewing needles in its stores. “The safety of our customers is our top priority,” a spokesperson said.
The needle (and the damage done) have hit most of the country’s 620 strawberry growers hard: six brands have been pulled from the shelves at Woolworths and Aldi, news.co.au reports. (Coles, Australia’s other large supermarket chain, has since restocked the products.) Strawberry farmers have been forced to discard thousands of pounds of the fruit, and prices for their remaining berries have plummeted.
As of Thursday afternoon, the only arrest so far has been a “young person” who admitted making his own needle-filled strawberries as “a copycat prank.” New South Wales Police acting Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said that he would be “dealt with” in the country’s juvenile system.
Oh my, Australia. Why can’t this be an urban legend too?