Food retailers and police across Australia will be watching with concern a new series of food tampering incidents that have occurred in South Australia in recent days.
Needles and thumbtacks have been discovered in strawberries, avocados and, in one case, bread being sold at supermarkets in and around Adelaide.
The incidents are reminiscent of a string of cases in various parts of Australia in 2018, which created a national scare and saw the price of strawberries fall to the point where many farmers were forced to throw away their crops.
Latest incident at Goolwa in country South Australia
The latest incident occurred on Tuesday 7 July at Goolwa, about 100km outside the city of Adelaide, when a thumbtack was found in strawberries bought at the Goolwa Foodland.
At this point police believe it may be a copycat incident related to the discovery a few days earlier of needles in strawberries and an avocado, plus thumbtacks in a loaf of bread.
These occurred at a Woolworths supermarket in the outer Adelaide suburb of Golden Grove.
To date, no injuries to customers or their families have been reported.
Dedicated police team established to investigate tampering
South Australia police have now established a dedicated team to investigate the incidents, with Commissioner Grant Stevens warning that “we don’t want to see this becoming a trend”.
“The potential for copycat is significant and the impact on industry is significant,” Stevens emphasised. “We are dedicating resources to identify the people responsible.”
In both instances, the retailers have checked other stocks in the outlets for similar contamination and suppliers have been alerted to check their own stocks. CCTV footage from the stores is being examined.
Reminiscent of many 2018 tampering cases around Australia
In 2018 the first such incidents were reported in Queensland, but these quickly spread to other parts of the country and ultimately more than 100 cases of food tampering were discovered.
According to a report by ABC News at the time, the Queensland Government made available a $100 000 reward for information that led to the arrest of a culprit.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt ordered an immediate investigation into the contamination, labelling the incidents “vicious crimes”, and the Federal Government announced a $1-million relief package for strawberry farmers due to the fall in consumer demand.