NZ supermarket chain halts Australian strawberry sales as needles found

FILE PHOTO: Supplied undated handout image obtained September 14, 2018 of a thin piece of metal seen among a punnet of strawberries in Gladstone. AAP/Queensland Police/Handout via REUTERS

Thomson Reuters

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - A New Zealand supermarket chain pulled a brand of Australian strawberries off its shelves after needles were found in punnets purchased from a store in Auckland.

A scare has gripped neighboring Australia, where police are investigating more than 100 reports of needles found in fruit during recent weeks.

Needles, first found in strawberries produced by one supplier in the northern state of Queensland, are now turning up around the country in the berries and other fruits.

New Zealand grocery chain Countdown, which is owned by Australia's Woolworths Limited said in a statement on its website on Sunday that 'Choice' strawberries, which are sourced from the state of Western Australia, would be withdrawn "as a precautionary measure" after needles were found.

It was unclear when the contaminated berries entered New Zealand but last week Australia had said it was using metal detectors to screen all strawberry exports.

New Zealand's Primary Industries Minister Damien O'Connor on Monday said it was unclear whether the strawberries had been tampered with in Australia or New Zealand.

"I'm hoping no New Zealander would be such an idiot," he said, according to the New Zealand Herald newspaper, adding that food safety regulators were conducting a "thorough inquiry".

Countdown said it was in contact with both New Zealand and Australian authorities, who were investigating the issue.

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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