The Australian government has ordered a probe into incidents of sewing needles being found hidden inside strawberries. Major supermarkets have taken strawberries off their shelves as growers use metal detectors.
Needles hidden inside strawberries have been found in two more Australian states, police said on Monday, adding that no injuries have been reported.
Police said a man in the state of Western Australia and a girl in South Australia reported finding needles in their strawberries in the past two days, broadening the health scare to all six Australian states.
Authorities have warned people to slice the fruit before eating, with seven brands of strawberries in the country now believed to be contaminated.
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt ordered the national food safety watchdog to investigate the scare.
"The job is very, very clear. Protect the public and keep them safe," Hunt told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Supermarkets recall strawberries
Major Australian supermarket chains Coles and Aldi have pulled all strawberries from their shelves across Australia except in Western Australia state, where the first suspected needle contamination case was reported in locally-grown fruit.
A man in the town of York reported to police that he found a needle in a sink after washing strawberries.
Public fears also spread to neighboring New Zealand, where major food distributors Foodstuffs and Countdown have taken Australian strawberries off their shelves.
The country's Ministry of Primary Industries confirmed none of the contaminated strawberry brands had made it onto shop shelves.
The government of Queensland state, where the contamination scare was first reported last week, offered a 100,000 Australian dollar ($72,000, €62,000) reward for any information on those responsible.
The state's police chief said it was unclear who was responsible for the contamination. Police are trying to ascertain if it was the result of a single person acting alone or several people acting independently.
Queensland Strawberry Growers Association vice president Adrian Schultz said the act of "commercial terrorism" has severely hurt the multimillion-dollar industry.
"I'm angry for all the associated people, it's the farmers, the people who supply them, the packaging people, the truckies with families to support, who suddenly lose their jobs ... it's far-reaching," Schultz said.
Several strawberry growers have been forced to dump fruit in the peak of the season.
Strawberry Growers Association of Western Australia president Neil Handasyde said growers had received requests from major retailers and insurance companies to scan fruit for needles.
"Industry are looking at lots of different ways of tackling this issue. There's been metal detectors purchased and tamper-proof packaging looked at," Handasyde told ABC, adding that he paid AU$20,000 for a metal detector for his berry farm.
ap/rc (AP, Reuters)