NZ retailer takes fruit off shelves after needle find

Reuters, WELLINGTON

Tue, Sep 25, 2018 - Page 10

A New Zealand supermarket chain pulled a brand of Australian strawberries off its shelves after needles were found in punnets purchased from a store in Auckland.

A scare has gripped neighboring Australia, where police are investigating more than 100 reports of needles found in fruit during recent weeks.

Needles, first found in strawberries produced by one supplier in the state of Queensland, are now turning up around the country in strawberries and other fruits.

New Zealand grocery chain Countdown, which is owned by Australia’s Woolworths Ltd, on Sunday said in a statement on its Web site that “Choice” strawberries, which are sourced from the state of Western Australia, would be withdrawn “as a precautionary measure” after needles were found.

It was unclear when the contaminated batches berries were imported to New Zealand, but last week, Australia said that it was using metal detectors to screen all strawberry exports.

New Zealand Minister of Primary Industries Damien O’Connor on Monday said it was unclear whether the strawberries had been tampered with in Australia or New Zealand.

“I’m hoping no New Zealander would be such an idiot,” he was quoted as saying by the New Zealand Herald, adding that food safety regulators were conducting a “thorough inquiry.”

Countdown said it was in contact with New Zealand, as well as Australian authorities, who were investigating the issue.