Australia fruit scare: Needles found in strawberries in New Zealand

image sourceEPA
image captionThere have been over 100 reports of needles being found in supermarket fruit in Australia

The Australian scare over needles found in strawberries has spread to New Zealand after needles were found in a punnet of the fruit on sale in an Auckland supermarket.

The Countdown supermarket chain said it had taken a brand of Australian strawberries off the shelves.

There have been over 100 reports of needles being found in supermarket fruit in Australia.

Many are thought to be copycat cases or social media stunts, however.

The strawberries in Auckland, imported from Western Australia, were sold in New Zealand Countdown stores nationwide last week.

"We take food safety very seriously," the company said in a statement.

"Customers can return any Choice brand of strawberries they may have at home to Countdown for peace of mind and a full refund."

The statement said there had been no reports of any illness or injury in New Zealand, but the chain advised customers to cut up any Australian strawberries before eating them.

It added that the brand of strawberries affected by this withdrawal "have not previously had any issues of this nature reported and had not been withdrawn from sale in Australia".

Dumped fruit

It has been nearly a week since the first needle was found in a punnet of strawberries bought in Queensland.

Woolworths Australia, Countdown's parent company, has withdrawn needles from sale as a "precautionary step".

The Australian government last week raised the maximum prison sentence for fruit tampering from 10 to 15 years, and there is a reward of A$100,000 (£55,000; $72,000) for anyone able to offer information.

Growers have had to dump tonnes of unwanted fruit. They fear the scare, which has come during the peak of production, will damage sales in an industry worth about A$130m a year.

Strawberry prices have already dropped around the country, with prices in Western Australia now below the cost of production, local media reported.

On Monday, New Zealand's two largest food distributors - Countdown and Foodstuffs - said they had stopped importing Australian strawberries due to the scare.

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