Needle in Strawberry Sends Young Man to Hospital

Authorities Suspect Foul Play
September 13, 2018 Updated: September 13, 2018

A Queensland man posted on Facebook that his friend had swallowed half a sewing needle after eating a strawberry from Woolworths on Sept. 9.

Joshua Gane said that he and his friend Hoani van Dorp had bought a punnet of “Berry Obsession” strawberries from the Woolworths in Strathpine Centre.

When Van Dorp bit through the strawberry, he found that he had swallowed half a sewing needle.

The pair then checked the other strawberries and found a sewing needle inside another one.

The needle found among strawberries
Photo from a Facebook Post by Joshua Gane showing the needle he found in a punnet of Woolworths strawberries bought from Strathpine, Queensland on Sept. 9, 2018. (Joshua Gane/Facebook)

Following the horrific find, the friends went to the ER as Van Dorp was suffering from “severe abdominal pain,” Gane explained in his post.

Gane made the Facebook post while they were at the ER at 12:52 p.m. local time.

On the same day, Gane received a phone call from the Strathpine Woolworths store manager telling him that a recall of the product had been issued for the store. The store also contacted the supplier, the police, and the health and safety authorities.

“They are also contacting the supplier, the police and health and safety,” Gane stated. “They suspect it is foul play, but unsure whether it was via the supplier, Woolworths, or a customer.”

As a precaution, Queensland Health’s chief health officer, Jeanette Young, advised people in the states of Queensland, Victoria, and NSW on Sept. 12 to throw out their strawberries that were bought early last week, the Herald Sun reported.

“If someone were to swallow a sewing needle, it could get caught up in their gut,” Young told the newspaper.

Officials Give Warning, Launch Investigation

After the Facebook post, the police launched an investigation on Sept. 9.

According to the Herald Sun, health officials and police said on Sept. 12 that three punnets of strawberries from Queensland and Victoria had been found to have needles in them—one from Queensland and two from Victoria.

Authorities said that the contaminated strawberries—branded Berrylicious and Berry Obsession—came from two farms located next to each other in south-east Queensland. The two brands can be found in Woolworths and potentially other stores.

Queensland Acting Chief Superintendent Terry Lawrence said on Sept. 12 that the police were in contact with the farm operators and Woolworths representatives, and that they believed that the offender contaminated the stock intentionally.

“[It’s been done] obviously to injure somebody,” he said.

Police from both Queensland and Victoria are now investigating across three states to find the people responsible, the ABC reported.

Detective Acting Chief Superintendent Terry Lawrence told media that while the Strawberry Growers Association said they believed that disgruntled ex-employee may be responsible for the needles, police are “not agreeing with that at all at this point in time.”

“Our investigation is still open, 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 end of the production line, including even further through to distribution and going onto the shelves,” he said.

Police are currently interviewing what could end up being around 100 staff from the two affected farms, the ABC reported.

Copycat Cases

This recommendation came about after the fourth case of contamination came about in Gatton, west of Brisbane. Authorities are saying that this is a copycat case.

Angela Stevenson, a mother of two, bought Berry Obsession strawberries from Woolworths in Gladstone on Sept. 11, ABC reported.

She had already sent her nine-year-old to school with uncut strawberries, but when cutting more strawberries for her 12-month-old at home, she found a needle.

“I was just cutting up some fruit in the morning for my 12-month-old and hit something hard and pulled it back and there was a needle embedded in it,” Stevenson told the ABC.

Stevenson immediately called her son’s school and told them to stop her son from eating the strawberries.

“It wasn’t five minutes later they rang back and said it was too late, he’d actually bitten into it.

“Luckily he’d pulled it back out of his mouth,” Stevenson said. “And told the teacher there was a needle in his strawberry.”

Stevenson felt thankful that she didn’t just “pull the head off” and give it to her 12-month-old completely whole.

Authorities said on Sept. 13 that they believe that they had mitigated enough risk for customers to buy strawberries again, as all stock had been replaced.

Isolated Incidents, but Check Before Eating

Strawberries Australia’s industry development officer Jennifer Rowling told the ABC that the industry is “devastated by this incident and it’s distressing to think that someone’s done something like this.”

She said that with the affected products having been taken off the shelves, the public can now feel safe eating strawberries, adding that the incidents. She said that people can “chop them in half” if they remained concerned about the presence of needles.

Lawrence also encouraged people to check strawberries before they are consumed.

“Just cut them up, have a look, it’s not going to destroy it,” he said. “It makes it difficult because you might need to dispose of them earlier, but just cut them up for safety’s sake.”

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