Two major supermarkets pull strawberries as crisis deepens
COLES and Aldi have both pulled all strawberries from their shelves after needles were found inside berries sold as far apart as Sydney and Townsville.
The dramatic move affects stores in every state except Western Australia.
"Now that the withdrawal of product is complete, our focus will shift to working with our primary producers and the supporting supply chain to do what we can to minimise the impact and cost of these withdrawals," an Aldi spokeswoman said.
"Our hope is that we'll have guidance from authorities that we can return strawberries to shelves in the very near future."
Coles said the move was to protect the safety of its customers.
"Coles has complied with Queensland Health's request to remove Donnybrook strawberries from sale following reports of product contamination," its spokesman said.
"As a precaution, Coles is also withdrawing all brands and sizes of Queensland grown strawberry punnets from sale in Coles Supermarkets in all states (except Western Australia), in Coles Express stores and via Coles online.
"Police are urging anyone who finds strawberry punnets containing foreign objects to contact the police in their home state.
"The safety of our customers is our top priority and anyone concerned about their health should seek medical advice.
Coles will be working with growers and suppliers to offer support."
Queensland Police are leading an investigation into the source of the needles, and the state's Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has stumped up a reward of $100,000 for anyone with information that leads to the capture of the culprits.
"How could any right-minded person want to put a baby or a child or anybody's health at risk by doing such a dreadful act?" Ms Palaszczuk said yesterday.
"This is putting families' lives at risk and it's also putting the strawberry industry at risk. We need to catch those responsible."
Police suspect the needles were deliberately planed "obviously to injure somebody".
The sewing needle contamination is believed to be affected six separate brands of strawberries: Berry Obsession, Berry Licious, Love Berry, Donnybrook Berries, Delightful Strawberries and Oasis.
Those brands are known to be sold in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and the ACT.
Yesterday Woolworths confirmed it had removed the Oasis and Love Berry brands from its shelves, with Berry Obsession, Berry Licious and Donnybrook going earlier in the week.
It does not stock the Delightful brand.
"We will stay in close contact and continue to be steered by the authorities on the protection of our customers," a Woolworths spokeswoman said.
"We urge customers to follow the advice of the health authorities and chop all strawberries before consumption."
The strawberry industry is pleading with customers to keep buying the berries, but to cut them up before eating them to ensure they're safe.
"This is food terrorism that is bringing an industry to its knees, said Strawberries Australia Inc Queensland spokesman Ray Daniels.
"But I would say to people, we produce 800,000 punnets a day and seven needles were found. You've got more chance of winning lotto than being affected.
"I would call on people to go out and buy strawberries today but please, cut them up to check."
On Thursday the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association revealed it suspected a disgruntled former employee was behind the contamination.
There have been multiple reported cases of Australians finding the needles inside their strawberries. One horrified mother told Sunrise she had discovered the metal implement when she was cutting up the fruit for her child.
Angela Stevenson said she cut into metal and then realised she had given her son strawberries for his packed lunch.
She frantically called her son's school and asked them to throw the fruit away.
So far only one person is believed to have swallowed a needle, in the first known case last Sunday.
A 21-year-old man from Burpengary in Queensland bit into a strawberry with a needle inside it and ended up in hospital.
"When I bit into one I felt like a sharp snap, and my knee jerk reaction was to swallow, and what was left was half a sewing needle," he told the Courier-Mail.
"I'm just in shock, you don't expect that."
Anyone who believes they might have swallowed a needle should call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or speak to their GP.
Anyone with information that could assist the police investigation is asked to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.