Berry sabotage devastating to Qld growers

Police and health authorities are investigating after sewing needles were found inside strawberries.
Police and health authorities are investigating after sewing needles were found inside strawberries.

Already struggling with low prices, Queensland strawberry growers are imploring customers to stick by their product after sewing needles were discovered in retail stocks of the fruit.

Queensland police confirmed on Thursday a fourth case of needles being discovered inside berries from a Sunshine Coast-based supplier.

A young boy in Gladstone ended up with a needle in his mouth on Tuesday after taking strawberries to school.

Angela Stevenson says she was chopping up fruit for her baby when she found a needle embedded in a berry. Realising her son had strawberries in his lunch box she immediately called his school.

It wasn't five minutes later they rang back and said it was too late, he'd actually bitten into it," she told ABC radio.

"Luckily he pulled it back out of his mouth and told the teacher."

Queensland police and Australian Border Force officers inspected the farm at Wamuran, north of Brisbane, on Thursday where the contaminated berries came from as they hunted for the culprit.

An investigation is also underway after an employee at a Coles supermarket in Gatton discovered a small metal rod laying across the top of some strawberries inside a plastic punnet on Thursday.

It's suspected the incident is a copycat attempt.

Sunshine Coast grower Adrian Schultz said the contamination scare was the last thing the industry needed.

"Our biggest concern is some sort of copycat event happening that could exacerbate the situation," Mr Schultz told AAP.

"It does appear to be an isolated incident so far ... it's the perception that people have that's the concern."

With only a few weeks left in the Queensland season, Mr Schultz implored consumers to keep buying their product.

"We could be finished by the weekend," he said.

"I know that farmers that are still going would appreciate the support by the public."

So far four contaminated punnets have been found - two in Queensland and two in Victoria.

The Queensland Strawberry Growers Association says a disgruntled farm worker may be responsible, as the two brands affected, Berry Obsession and Berrylicious, came from the same farm.

But police doubt that theory.

"We're not agreeing with that at all at this particular point in time," Queensland Acting Chief Superintendent Terry Lawrence said.

"We're not going to get into speculation. We're keeping a very open mind as to where this may have occurred somewhere between the actual growing of the strawberry through to the completion of the production line and going even further through to distribution and going on to the shelves."

The affected brands have since been withdrawn from sale.

Health authorities are urging people to cut up strawberries to make sure they are safe to eat and police want anyone who finds a needle to contact them.

Australian Associated Press