A Hobart toddler has been the latest victim in the fruit contamination saga, after a piece of metal was discovered in a strawberry being eaten by the child.
The two-year-old was not injured, but police are investigating what is now the third case of fruit tampering in Tasmania.
The contaminated fruit in each case has been sold from Woolworths stores in the Hobart area.
The first case was reported on Sunday after a woman found a needle inside a strawberry her daughter was eating.
The Pinata strawberries had been purchased from the Rosny Park store.
The second case also involved Pinata strawberries, this time purchased from Kingston Town Shopping Centre.
The third case came to police attention after a metal object was found in an apple when a southern resident cut up the fruit for their pet to eat.
That fruit had been purchased from Shoreline Woolworths.
The reports come after multiple cases of fruit contamination interstate, but Tasmania Police Detective acting Inspector David Richardson said he could not confirm if the local incidents were linked.
He said there was no evidence, however, that the Tasmanian reports were false.
“Police are conducting forensic examinations in all three cases, with results being expected in the coming days,” Detective acting Inspector Richardson said.
“Police have been advised that the apple was locally produced and is therefore not believed to be linked to the Queensland incident.
“We are appealing for anyone with information to come forward. All relevant information is being collated in each state and provided to Queensland authorities to assist with their ongoing investigation.”
The federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources said on Wednesday it was implementing interim control measures for the export of fresh strawberries.
“In order for strawberry export permits to be approved, exporters will be required to provide assurance to the department that their consignment is free from metal contaminants,” the department said in a statement.
“Interim control measures can include an assurance that the fruit will go through an effective metal screening process prior to export, or on-farm metal screening with measures to ensure product security has been maintained post screening.
“Visual inspection alone is not an acceptable measure.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also announced the government would introduce tougher penalties for fruit tampering.
This would include increasing the maximum prison sentence for food tampering offences from 10 to 15 years.
Tasmanian Primary Industries Minister Sarah Courtney welcomed the news of harsher penalties and urged locals to continue to support producers.
“The impact of the current needle contamination in strawberries is being felt by growers in mainland states,” she said.
“While I appreciate the current health concerns, strawberries can still be consumed as long as consumers follow public health advice.”
Earlier this week, Public Health Tasmania acting director Dr Scott McKeown said the majority of strawberries sold in the state at this time of year were not produced locally, with the Tasmanian season not open until next month.
Information can be provided by calling Tasmania Police on 131 444 or anonymously by calling Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or online at crimestopperstas.com.au.
IN OTHER NEWS: