Australian supermarket temporarily stops selling needles amid strawberry scare

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The government is rushing legislation through parliament to ratchet up the maximum penalties for so-called "food terrorists" from 10 to 15 years behind bars.

"Strawberries are scanned and it will stop if there is any metal present", quality control manager Manjeet Singh told The West Australian.

Sewing needles were taken off the shelves at a major Australian supermarket chain on Thursday amid a national panic over sharp objects being found inside strawberries and other fruit.

They could be "trying to do their bit" to support farmers struggling with the fallout by taking needles of the shelves, he said, but "cynically, you could also argue they want to be a part of the conversation and want to appear to be assisting".

Last week saw a mass recall of strawberries being sold around Australia after it emerged that a number of batches had been contaminated with sewing needles.

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A spokeswoman said the safety of customers was its top priority.

Assistant Commissioner of police of the state of New South Wales Stewart Smith said that the arrested guy was most likely put a needle in strawberries for fun.

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".

Health agencies and police have encouraged consumers to cut fruit before eating
Health agencies and police have encouraged consumers to cut fruit before eating it Credit REUTERS

On Wednesday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced, during a press conference in Canberra, that his government would be introducing tougher penalties for those found guilty of deliberately contaminating food or producing hoaxes or fake posts online about tampered food.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus agrees, saying there has been very "little time to fully consider what the consequences of this legislation might be".

Needles in strawberries have been the work of pranksters and copycats, police say.

"Just go back to buying strawberries like you used to and take the precautions that you should", Morrison told Australians in a televised address.

Empty shelves, normally stocked with strawberry punnets, are seen Friday at a Coles Supermarket in Brisbane, Australia.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the Australian authorities also assured that effective Sept 19, this product would be exported from the country free of metal contamination through the issuance of Request for Permit (RFPs) to exporters.

The Queensland and NSW governments are offering a reward to catch the culprits.

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