Australian strawberry needle scare spreads to New Zealand | News | DW | 23.09.2018
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Australian strawberry needle scare spreads to New Zealand

A New Zealand supermarket chain has found needles in a box of Australian strawberries and is withdrawing the brand. Australia itself has seen more than 100 such alleged incidents in recent weeks.

Consumers in New Zealand have been put on alert after needles were found in a punnet of strawberries coming from neighboring Australia, where authorities are investigating dozens of similar incidents that have occurred over the past weeks.

New Zealand's Countdown supermarket chain said it had taken a brand of Australian strawberries off the shelves after the needles were found in produce sold at one of its branches.

"Needles were found in a punnet of strawberries sourced from Western Australia, which was bought in a Countdown supermarket in Auckland," a major city on New Zealand's North Island, the company said in a statement on Sunday.

"As an extra precaution and following similar advice from public health authorities in Australia, customers should cut up any Australian strawberries before eating them," the statement said.

It remains unclear where the strawberries were tampered with.

Read more: German police say supermarket food poisoner suspect has confessed 

'Food terrorists'

Countdown said it was in contact with authorities both at home and in Australia involved in investigating the matter. 

So far it is the only case of such tampering reported from New Zealand, whereas Australia has seen more than 100 alleged cases of needles found in strawberries, bananas and apples. Investigators there fear that initial reports earlier this month about fruit from the northeastern state of Queensland might have inspired copycat actions, though some reported incidents have been revealed as social-media hoaxes.

One of Australia's major supermarket chains, Woolworths Australia, which is Countdown's parent company, has withdrawn sewing needles from sale as a "precautionary step."

Last week, the Australian government raised the maximum sentence for people found tampering with food — "food terrorists," as they have been labelled in Australian media — from 10 to 15 years in prison in a fast-tracked procedure.

tj/jlw (dpa, AFP)

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