A $100,000 (£55,000) reward has reportedly been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Australia’s strawberry spikers, amid fears up to six brands may have been contaminated with needles and pins.
Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is said to have issued the reward over concerns for growers as well as consumers.
“They are not only endangering people’s lives, they are threatening an entire industry,” Ms Palaszczuk was quoted in the Queensland Times as saying.
“We’re not going to stand for it. We have to come together.”
New South Wales Police said the number of reported incidents has been increasing, with six brands believed to have been targeted: Berry Obsession, Berry Licious, Love Berry, Donnybrook Berries, Delightful Strawberries and Oasis.
Initially three incidents in Queensland had been reported to police on Thursday. One of the cases involved a man who had eaten a strawberry with a needle inside. He is being assessed by medics but his condition is not known.
NSW Police said in statement: “These brands are believed to be sold in stores in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory.
“Police are continuing to liaise with retailers to ensure that all stock from the affected date has been removed from sale.
“The contamination relates to what appears to be sewing needles and pins inserted in strawberries.”
The statement added: “As the products have yet to be forensically examined, it is unknown if the contamination is related to the original Queensland incident or a copycat.”
Police have urged consumers who have bought an affected punnet to take it to police for forensic examination.
On Thursday, the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association said it had “reason to suspect” a former employee was responsible but police are still investigating.
Australia’s industry development officer Jennifer Rowling said: “It’s quite devastating for our growers – they’re really upset about it, obviously, because this is their livelihood and someone has taken it upon themselves to do something really nasty.”
Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeanette Young has advised consumers to take care when consuming the fruit.
“At this stage, please cut them up and just look to make sure they haven’t been contaminated,” she said.