Australian police arrest woman in connection with needles found in strawberries

Australian police say they have arrested a woman in connection with an investigation into needles found in supermarket strawberries earlier this year.

A 50-year-old woman was arrested Sunday after a “complex investigation” into the alleged contamination of strawberries in Queensland, the Queensland Police Service said in a statement.

She is expected to appear in Brisbane Magistrates Court on Monday.

The arrest follows at least 100 reported cases of sewing needles or pins found in fruit across the country.

The needles were found in strawberries in all six Australian states and in at least six different brands. There were also isolated cases of metal found in a banana, an apple and a mango, with the government saying many of the cases were thought to be “copycat” or hoaxes.

The incidents prompted authorities in the Australian state of Queensland to issue a warning September 12, advising consumers to cut up the fruit.

The Australian government also announced tougher penalties for food tampering, increasing the maximum prison term from 10 years to 15 years.

Queensland Police said it has conducted a national investigation “with multiple government, law enforcement and intelligence agencies” — as well as a police task force in the state. The investigation is ongoing, police said.

Impact on industry

Fear of strawberry contamination severely damaged Australia’s multimillion dollar fruit industry.

Supermarkets across Australia removed large numbers of strawberries from their shelves in response to the scare. Meanwhile, some local and overseas buyers suspended the sale of Australian strawberries.

The country exports strawberries to locations including Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.

Strawberries made up 3% of Australia’s fruit exports for the year ending June 2017, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Fresh fruit exports were valued at 954 million Australian dollars ($690 million) for the same period, according to a report commissioned by the Australian Horticultural Exporters Association.