Australian police have confirmed that a mango was sold with a small needle in it, prompting fresh fears over the country’s fruit.
A spokesman for police in New South Wales told CNN that a customer bought a mango with the sharp item inside it in West Gosford.
The announcement comes on the same day Australian retail giant Woolworths has temporarily pulled sewing needles from its stores after at least 100 reported cases of the objects being inserted into strawberries nationwide.
“We’ve taken the precautionary step of temporarily removing sewing needles from sale in our stores,” Woolworths said in a statement. “The safety of our customers is our top priority.”
Woolworths has also suspended sales of needles online, though they were still available on the website of Coles, its major competitor.
Needles were first reported in strawberries in the state of Queensland last week, but they’ve since been found in all six Australian states, in at least six brands. There are also isolated cases of needles in a banana and an apple.
Australia exports strawberries to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the UAE, among others. One big retailer in New Zealand has already withdrawn Australian strawberries from sale.
Some buyers in Russia and the UK have also blocked Australian imports, said Jennifer Rowlings from Queensland Strawberry, according to local media.
The Australian government has announced tougher penalties for food tampering, increasing the maximum prison term from 10 to 15 years.
By comparison, knowingly possessing child pornography and indecent assault both carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 years in the state of Victoria, Australia’s most densely populated state.
Many of the strawberry incidents are thought to be hoax or copycat attacks, including one carried out by a child who admitted the “prank” to police.
New South Wales Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said the child “will be dealt with under the youth cautioning system.”
In New South Wales, criminal responsibility begins at the age of 10, but youth offenders can be granted a formal caution by police.
“It’s not a joke, it’s not funny, you’re putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk and you’re scaring children,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Wednesday. “You’re a coward and you’re a grub and if you do that sort of thing in this country we will come after you.”
Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin called on social media users who had posted staged images of contaminated fruit on their accounts to delete them.
“This isn’t amusing in any way,” he said, according to CNN affiliate 9 News.
Sales of some brands of strawberries have been suspended across the country. A statement on the Woolworth’s commercial website states that the company has “temporarily withdrawn Berry Licious, Berry Obsession, and Donnybrook strawberries from sale following recent reports of contamination.”
The Love Berry, Delightful Strawberries and Oasis brands have also been affected, 9 News reports.
Coles has also recalled strawberries from its stores, except in Western Australia, where it is selling them under the guidance of the authorities, according to 9 News. It still has its own-brand strawberries listed for sale online.
Strawberry sales suspended
Concern that local farmers will suffer as a result of the needle scare has prompted a viral, grassroots social media campaign urging Australians to #SmashAStrawb to support local growers.
“Smash” is an Australianism which means to eat or drink something enthusiastically or quickly.
“Western Australians, get behind our local industry. Slice them in half and #SmashAStrawb to help out our local growers today,” Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan said on his official Twitter.
According to a report carried out for the Australian Horticultural Exporters Association by Fresh Intelligence Consulting,fresh fruit and vegetable exports increased 3.4% to 1.2 billion AUD for the year ending June 2017.
Citing information from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the report said strawberries make up 3% of the country’s fruit export for the same time period.