'All avenues exhausted' in police probe into Auckland strawberry scare

The hunt for how needles got into strawberries bought from an Auckland supermarket has proved fruitless.

Police launched an inquiry in September when the needles were found inside fruit imported from Australia.

The punnet came from Countdown in St Lukes.

The find came amid a lengthy sabotage scare across the Tasman, leading to fruit being dumped and growers put under pressure.

At least 100 cases were reported across Australia.

But the Choice brand strawberries which had needles in them in Auckland were not part of the scare in Australia.

That led to questions around whether the needles ended up in the strawberries before or after they came into the country.

Police have told 1 NEWS they have exhausted all inquiries at this stage.

“We investigated the incident thoroughly. There were no further reports related to the case,” Police said in a statement.

Biosecurity Minister and Minister for Food Safety Damien O’Connor, who at the time called the needle find sick and sordid, also says there is no further danger.

“Investigations have confirmed this is a one-off incident, and while we should always be vigilant there is no ongoing threat to New Zealand consumers.

“I want to acknowledge New Zealand growers and reassure New Zealanders we have robust production systems,” the minister told 1 NEWS.

The Choice strawberries were taken off Countdown’s shelves after the find.

1 NEWS asked Countdown, part of Woolworths NZ, if the strawberries were still off shelves now.

It said it was no longer needing to source Australian strawberries while the New Zealand season is underway.

“We’re really pleased we’ve had no more issues in our Countdown stores,” a spokesperson said.

“Food safety is out utmost priority so any threat to this is highly stressful for everyone involved, including our customers.”

The Ministry for Primary Industries, which originally said it was working with Police and the supermarket chain to investigate, referred questions to the Police.

“We don’t believe there is a threat to New Zealand consumers, but we remain vigilant on behalf of New Zealand consumers,” the ministry said.

- By Kim Baker-Wilson

Timeline:

Wednesday 7 Nov – Police tell 1 NEWS all avenues of inquiry have been exhausted.

Sunday, 23 Sept 3:55pm – Woolworths NZ informed MPI of the findings of 3 needles in 3 strawberries from one punnet.  Confirmation that Police have been informed.  MPI requests details.

Sunday 23 Sept 4pm – Woolworths NZ initiate withdrawal of all Choice brand strawberries in all Countdown stores who stock them.

Sunday, 23 Sept 4:20pm – MPI requests additional information from Woolworths.

Sunday, 23 Sept 4:36pm – Woolworths NZ send MPI summary of situation and photos.  Confirmation in writing that Police have been informed.

Sunday, 23 Sept 4:40pm – MPI assessment of information provided.

Sunday, 23 Sept 5:47pm – Woolworths NZ informs MPI that it has issued a press release.

Sunday, 23 Sept 6:20pm – Woolworths NZ agree to MPI direction of destruction testing (cutting up all withdrawn strawberries to determine if any needles are present)

Sunday, 23 Sept 7:00pm – MPI informs Australian authorities.

The find in a punnet of Countdown strawberries came in the middle of a lengthy scare across the Tasman. Source: Breakfast