Nearly a month since a strawberry with a needle in it was reported to Queensland Police, authorities have not revealed the source of the initial contamination.
Life is slowly returning to normal for strawberry growers after needle tampering cases gripped Australia.
Affected punnets were found across the country, including Tasmania, South Australia and WA.
How the drama unfolded
Queensland Police are still investigating the incidents, and in a statement said they would tell the public if any charges were laid.
There were several confirmed cases of strawberries with needles found in them, with the first were reported in Queensland, and revealed by authorities on September 13.
Berry Licious and Berry Obsession were the first cases reported on September 12. The strawberries had been purchased the week before.
On September 14, Queensland Health announced strawberries from Donnybrook farms north of Brisbane were being pulled from supermarket shelves after three incidents.
At least seven brands of strawberries had contaminated punnets, including Donnybrook Berries, Love Berry, Delightful Strawberries, Oasis brands, Berry Obsession, Berry Licious and Mal’s Black Label strawberries.
Police said they believed another Queensland case, where a small silver rod was found sitting on top of strawberries in a punnet purchased at a Coles in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley, was a copycat.
Cases reported interstate
NSW Police confirmed that strawberries contaminated with needles were bought from a Sydney supermarket on September 15.
On September 16, South Australia Police reported a needle was found in a punnet of strawberries purchased from a supermarket in the Adelaide Hills, and Tasmania Police were investigating a claim that strawberries contaminated with needles were found at a Hobart supermarket at Rosny Park.
And on September 17, Western Australia Police confirmed the state’s first case after a man in the town of York located a needle in his kitchen sink after preparing strawberries to eat.
The Queensland Government put out a $100,000 reward for information that led to the arrest of a culprit.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt ordered an immediate investigation into the contamination, labelling the incidents “vicious crimes”, and the Federal Government announced a $1 million relief package for strawberry farmers.
At the time, the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association suspected a disgruntled ex-employee was behind the sewing needles found in a number of strawberries sold by Woolworths.
During the height of the crisis, Growcom chief advocate Rachel McKenzie criticised government agencies for creating what she described as “hysteria” around the needle crisis, and said the response had tarnished the sector and led to copycat attacks that had seriously damaged the industry.
Strict safety measures still in place
A Department of Agriculture and Water Resources spokesperson said Kuwait and Bahrain were the only countries to suspend Australian strawberry imports.
“Retailers in Singapore and New Zealand made a commercial decision to remove Australian strawberries from sale — these were not decisions made by health authorities in those countries,” the spokesperson said.
Stronger control measures remain place for the export of fresh strawberries.
“These measures require that all strawberries exported from Australia are screened for the presence of metal contaminants,” the spokesperson said.
“More than 100 consignments have been approved for export with these additional requirements, providing greater assurance for importing countries that Australian strawberries are safe.”
Sewing needles to return
Woolworths supermarkets removed sewing needles from their shelves as a precaution on September 20.
In a statement, the supermarket said sewing needles would return to shelves in the next two weeks.
Woolworths has continued to stock strawberries throughout the period, and currently strawberries are coming from Queensland and Western Australia, with the Victorian season set to start in about two weeks.
“We’re working closely with suppliers and growers to ensure strawberries remain available on our shelves for our customers to enjoy,” a spokesperson said.
“While we’ve introduced additional safety measures, we urge customers to continue following the advice of the health authorities and cut up all strawberries before eating them.”
Cropping manager Tony Sarks says the local community has rallied behind the strawberry industry. (ABC Mid North Coast: Sarah Maunder)
Business returning to normal for grower
Tony Sarks, the cropping manager at Riccardoes Tomatoes, a small pick-your-own strawberry and tomato farm near Port Macquarie on the NSW mid-north coast, said business had “pretty much recovered”.
“It was tough there for a while, but following the crisis the way the community got behind strawberry farmers was really impressive,” he said.
“Now we’re into school holidays. Being a pick-your-own farm, we’ve managed to clear our crops, which we’re very happy about.”
Brendan, Cameron, Tara and Brooke Lindfield visit the Riccardoes Tomatoes and Strawberry Farm during the school holidays. The siblings say they are not worried by the needle tampering cases. (ABC Mid North Coast: Sarah Maunder)
Mark Lindfield visited Riccardoes Tomatoes with his family during the NSW school holidays.
“I was looking for something to do in the area and I saw this online, and I thought ‘That’s it, we’ve got to go there’,” he said.
“It was actually really hard to find strawberries in the supermarkets. We wanted to buy more but the major chains had stopped stocking them, and this was the best way to get them.”