Australia strawberry scare: Woolworths halts sewing needle sales

image source, JOSHUA GANE
image captionSewing needles have been inserted inside strawberries in Australia

Australian supermarket giant Woolworths has temporarily removed sewing needles from its shelves as the country faces a strawberry safety scare.

Last week, Australians were warned to cut fresh strawberries before biting into them after several people found sewing needles hidden inside the fruit.

Several strawberry brands have been pulled from stores across the country.

A country-wide investigation into the scare has since been launched amid growing public alarm.

The government has also said it will introduce stricter criminal penalties for anyone found to have been tampering with food.

Strawberries Australia Inc, the country's largest industry body for strawberry growers, declined to comment on the move by Woolworths.

But many of Australia's strawberry farmers remain frustrated and angry at what they say has been a huge overreaction to the scandal.

Woolworths said the safety of its customers was its top priority and that pulling sewing needles from its shelves was a safety measure.

"We've taken the precautionary step of temporarily removing sewing needles from sale in our stores across the country," the supermarket told the BBC, but did not say how long the move would last.

Sydney-based brand expert Paul Nelson said Woolworths' action could be seen as something of a "knee jerk reaction" to the crisis.

They could be "trying to do their bit" to support farmers struggling with the fallout by taking needles of the shelves, he said, but "cynically, you could also argue they want to be a part of the conversation and want to appear to be assisting".

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