SUPERMARKET giant Woolworths has taken the extraordinary step of withdrawing sewing needles from its shelves nationally following the fruit tampering crisis.
“We’ve taken the precautionary step of temporarily removing sewing needles from sale in our stores. The safety of our customers is our top priority,” a Woolworths spokesman told news.com.au.
Coles said it had no plans to pull sewing needles from its shelves, saying it was instead focused on thoroughly inspecting strawberries before they arrived at the nation’s supermarkets.
“We have worked with our suppliers to implement additional control measures to ensure strawberries are inspected before they are sent to supermarkets. Queensland Health has advised people should cut up strawberries before consuming them,” a Coles spokeswoman told news.com.au.
More than 100 reports of tampered fruit are being investigated by police across the country, many of which are thought to be fake or copycat cases.
Yesterday, a 12-year-old girl admitted to police she had shoved a needle into a strawberry at school and showed her friends as a “prank”.
One student told teachers and the police were called. They reportedly interviewed the girl at her home and she eventually confessed.
“Obviously, in the last few days we found a young person has admitted to a prank, including putting needles in strawberries,” the police commissioner told reporters in Sydney.
Mr Smith said the child would be dealt with under the youth cautioning system and police were taking the Young Offenders Act into consideration.
He said the behaviour could be “called a prank”, but warned any copycat cases would be dealt with harshly.
“What we’ve seen in the state (of NSW) we believe is the work of copycats and pranksters, we’ve got to deal with it though, the way we deal with any crime,” he said.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced tougher new criminal penalties for anyone caught tampering with food, or pretending their food had been tampered with.
The new laws, which would see the sentence for food tampering offences increase to a maximum of 15 years in prison, will be introduced into federal Parliament next week.
“I’m just focused on making sure no idiot goes into a supermarket this weekend and does something ridiculous,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Royalla in NSW.
“We’ve booked the hall in parliament for the day, we’ve paid the rent on it, and that means no one goes home until those bills are passed.”
The maximum sentence for food tampering will be brought in line with child pornography and financing terrorism.
“That’s how seriously I take this,” Mr Morrison said. “This is not on. We will act to protect, and keep Australians safe.”
Agricultural Minister David Littleproud also lashed out at people spiking strawberries, labelling them “parasites”.
“The reality is that … they’ve got to do some time,” Mr Littleproud told ABC radio.
“The one thing that people can do better than government is go and buy strawberries. Stick it up these parasites by going into the supermarkets and buying strawberries.”
It’s been almost two weeks since the strawberry crisis began when a Queensland man bit into a piece of fruit with a sewing needle inside on September 9.
Both the Queensland and NSW government have offered rewards for any information on fruit tampering.
Police are urging anyone who has purchased contaminated product to take the punnet to their local police station immediately for triage and forensic examination.
– With Wires