Supermarkets ban strawberries metal detectors needles contamination crisis scare

How many cases are there?

At least 13 people have gone public about finding needles in their strawberries since a man was rushed to hospital on September 9. Victims include young children and a dog.

However, NSW Police said on Tuesday it was investigating 20 cases in that state alone so the total figure is likely much higher.

Additionally, copycats put a needle in a banana and an apple, according to customers claiming to have found them.

Which brands are involved?

Seven brands, six from Queensland and one from Western Australia, have been targeted so far.

They include Berry Obsession, Berry Licious, Donnybrook Berries, Delightful Strawberries, Love Berries, Oasis, and Mal’s Black Label.

Who is responsible?

Police are searching for the original culprit and likely at least one copycat who placed the needles or razor blades but have not mentioned any leads.

Tampering is believed to have occurred during the packing stage, which is done at a central facility with many different brands, or soon after.

Can you still buy strawberries?

Supermarkets recalled all berries from the affected brands and Coles and Aldi temporarily pulled all strawberries from shelves until Monday.

The affected brands remain excluded from supermarket shelves.

New Zealand retailers have cut off Australian strawberries indefinitely. 

Should you buy strawberries and how can you eat them safely?

Health and food safety authorities advise customers to cut each berry in half to reveal if there is any sharp metal hidden inside

How has this affected growers?

The growers targeted by the contamination are unable to sell their stock and at least one of them has dumped millions of berries in a ditch.

Other companies have also mass scrapped stock as consumers are too worried to buy strawberries at all and sales collapsed. 

Strawberries are a $160 million industry in Queensland alone and the state government announced a $1 million fund to assist growers.

Can’t they just use metal detectors? 

Some have resorted to this, but they cost at least $30,000 to install and may not prevent anything as police believe it happened at the packing stage.

Why are growers poisoning and throwing away perfectly good strawberries?

Even though their stock has not been targeted, demand for strawberries has crashed as customers are worried they will be the next victim.

With no one to sell the fruit to, it will go off and rot in storage, so there is no point in keeping or even harvesting it. 

What are the alternative theories?

Police believe a disgruntled employee or similar is most likely to be responsible and copycats may have mental issues.

However, there are many other theories about the reasons behind the contamination scare doing the rounds on social media.

Some believe some of the needles were placed in the fruit at the supermarket by the victims who were just trying to get attention.

Others believe a foreign nation or company competing with Australian farmers to be behind it as an act of corporate espionage.

The Australian Government was also accused of being behind it as part of an elaborate plot to kill off Australian farming.

It would then sell the land to overseas companies and make the population dependent on the government for imported food. 

Terrorism is another popular explanation, with the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association even calling it ‘commercial terrorism’.

This theory got a boost when a psychologist on Tuesday said the culprit was likely attempting to instill fear in customers.

Backpackers, who make up much of the picking workforce, are also under suspicion online by those who believe it to be revenge for them not getting long-term visas.