Australian police arrest 50-year-old woman after needles found in strawberries

Australian police on Sunday arrested and charged a 50-year-old woman with contaminating strawberries with needles, the latest chapter in a public health scare that has gripped the country since mid-September.

The woman, whose identity has not yet been released by police, faces seven counts of contamination of goods, according to a statement released by the Queensland Police Service. 

Strawberries containing needles were first reported in Queensland, the third most populous of Australia’s six states, on Sept. 8 after a 21-year-old man who had unwittingly consumed one of the contaminated berries was rushed to the hospital with “severe abdominal pains.”

“Driving up to the coast when Hoani van Dorp bites through a strawberry and swallows half a sewing needle,” Joshua Gane, the victim’s friend, wrote in a Facebook post at the time. “We then checked the other strawberries and found another sewing needle lodged inside one of them.”

Queensland authorities notified the public of the safety risk on Sept. 12, and reports of needle-filled strawberries cropped up in all of the Australian states in the subsequent weeks. Those finding the spiked fruit included a 7-year-old girl in southern Australia.

The suspect is due to appear in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Monday. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, officials said.

The widespread needle scare prompted recalls on six brands: Donnybrook Berries, Love Berry, Delightful Strawberries, Oasis, Berry Obsession and Berry Licious.

Needles were also reportedly found in at least one mango and at least one banana, though it’s unclear whether these were isolated incidents, possibly executed by a copycat, or if they were related to the strawberries scare.

Queensland Strawberry Growers Association vice president Adrian Schultz told The Associated Press in September that what had started as a single act of “commercial terrorism” had brought a multimillion-dollar industry to its knees.

“I’m angry for all the associated people, it’s the farmers, the people who supply them, the packaging people, the truckies with families to support, who suddenly lose their jobs... it’s far-reaching,” Schultz said.

Officials from the strawberry association said they “have reason to suspect that a disgruntled ex-employee” of Woolworth, the supermarket where many of the affected strawberries were sold, was behind the contamination.

Queensland police released few details in their arrest announcement on Sunday and did not speculate on a motive. Queensland Police Detective Supt. Jon Wacker said “a significant amount of resources” were allocated to the case.

“This is a major and unprecedented police investigation with a lot of complexities involved,” Wacker said in a statement. “While the investigation is far from over, I would like to acknowledge the tireless effort of our investigators as well as members from all other agencies across Australia who played a role.” 

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

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