The startling discovery of sewing needles hidden in strawberries in stores across Australia has prompted an investigation into what the country’s health minister has called a “vicious crime.”
Needles have been found inside the fruit in six states, and one man has been hospitalized after consuming one, the BBC reports.
“This is a very vicious crime and it’s a general attack on the public,” said Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt, who called on Australia and New Zealand’s food administration to investigate.
Since the first case was reported last week in Queensland, more contaminated containers of fruit have been found in New South Wales, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and Tasmania.
No suspect has yet been identified and police have suggested that there could be so-called copycat offenders. The government of Queensland has reportedly offered a $72,000 reward for information related to the crime.
Several labels have been recalled, and some of New Zealand’s largest markets have stopped selling Australian strawberries all together as a precaution, according to the BBC.
“How could any right-minded person want to put a baby or a child or anybody’s health at risk by doing such a dreadful act?” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was quoted by the BBC as saying.
Growers are worried that the incidents could be detrimental to their peak season production period, which is now. To quell fear, some farmers have begun installing metal detectors to scan their fruit, ABC reports.