Strawberry crisis: Can ‘food sabotage’ be stopped?

The ongoing scare round needles in strawberries will drive the native meals industry to rethink how they forestall “food sabotage”, in response to a meals science and agribusiness skilled.

Police are persevering with to research after metallic needles have been present in strawberry punnets throughout Australia, with a $100,000 reward being provided for info on the saboteur or saboteurs.

The University of Sydney’s Dr Kim Phan-Thien informed SBS News the hazard of “intentional food contamination” had been on the agenda within the meals industry for a number of years.

“[But] we haven’t seen this sort of incident before in Australia, so it’s probably not common to have [prevention] plans in place,” she stated.

A person posted an image of the needle he present in a strawberry punnet.


Consequently, the companies will now have to think about and plan for “intentional attacks”.

“It’s a shock and it means we are going to see fresh produce [in particular] start to look at vulnerabilities [within their chain].”

Current measures

A spokesperson for Food Standards Australia New Zealand, which has been tasked to research the strawberry disaster, stated this was a really uncommon occasion.

“Deliberate contamination of food is an offense under various criminal acts and as such is investigated by police,” he stated.

The spokesperson stated measures to scale back the danger of “intentional interference” varies throughout industry sectors.

It was some extent echoed by Dr Phan-Thien. She stated whereas screening and testing of meals could be very rigorous in Australia, totally different producers might solely concentrate on totally different areas.

For instance, the recent produce sector has “mostly been worrying about microbial food safety, things like salmonella, listeria, norovirus”.

Metal detection is utilized in some areas of the industry.

“Anything pre-packed, so going into punnets or bags, will go through a metal detector. It’s part of the retailer food safety systems. Loose products don’t though.”

She stated companies might now take a look at elevated monitoring, higher screening and additional “restricting access to points of vulnerabilities”.

“[But] you can only screen for things that you expect. There may be more use of metal detectors… [But] the next incident may be chemical.” 

As a end result, she stated “steps can be taken” to scale back the specter of meals sabotage however it “cannot be entirely stopped”.

‘Commercial terrorism’

Vice-president of the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association, Adrian Schultz, stated what began with a single “act of commercial terrorism” has now introduced a multi-million greenback industry to its knees, with jobs past the growers now more likely to be misplaced.

“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,” he advised ABC radio on Monday.

Growers met with Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner on Sunday to debate the business results of the contamination that started at a southeast Queensland farm eight days in the past.

Empty shelves, normally stocked with strawberry punnets, in Brisbane.

Empty cabinets, usually stocked with strawberry punnets, in Brisbane.


Mr Furner says industry-specific help packages are being thought-about however no plan will be made till an understanding of the “complete effect” of the sabotage is known.

He stated many growers have been already experiencing financial stresses earlier than the contamination started as a consequence of an oversupply of fruit.

Only weeks in the past, some supermarkets dropped the worth of strawberries as little as $1 per punnet to assist suppliers transfer tonnes of extra produce.

There are round 150 business strawberry growers in Queensland.

Food sabotage around the globe

While meals sabotage instances are additionally uncommon internationally, Dr Phan-Thien cited two notable examples.

In 1984, followers of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh intentionally contaminated salad bars at native eating places in Oregon with salmonella.

The group hoped to incapacitate voters in a small metropolis in order that their very own candidates would win an area election.

More than 750 individuals contracted salmonellosis with 45 having to be hospitalised. Fortunately, none died.

Two individuals have been convicted on fees of tried homicide and served 29 months of 20-year sentences in jail.

In 2007, a disgruntled worker within the UK scattered nuts round a nut-free meals manufacturing unit after being reprimanded for placing up a “girlie calendar” at work.

The motion reportedly introduced the manufacturing unit to a standstill and price the employers over $1 million dollars.

– Additional reporting: AAP

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