A 50-year-old woman has been charged in relation to contamination of strawberries with sewing needles in Australia.
My Ut Trinh was arrested on Sunday and appeared at Brisbane Magistrates Court yesterday, Nov. 12. She had worked as a supervisor at a strawberry farm, according to officials.
She was charged with seven counts of contamination of goods, which has a three-year maximum penalty. Queensland Police said a circumstance of aggravation will be alleged, increasing the maximum to 10 years imprisonment.
Local media reported bail was opposed because of the risk of public retribution. Trinh will remain in custody until her next court appearance, which is scheduled for Nov. 22.
It is alleged that DNA matching Trinh’s has been found on a needle discovered in a strawberry.
Authorities notified the public of a safety risk in September after the discovery of punnets, referred to as small containers or baskets, of strawberries contaminated with needles. Police received about 200 reports of fruit contamination but 15 were found to have been hoaxes.
Detective Superintendent Jon Wacker of Queensland Police said it was a major investigation with a lot of complexities.
“While the investigation is far from over, I would like to acknowledge the tireless effort of our investigators as well as members from all other agencies across Australia who played a role. I would also like to thank those within the strawberry industry for their cooperation and members of the public who assisted us with our inquiries,” Wacker said.
The Queensland Strawberry Growers Association (QSGA) said it was “disconcerting” that charges relate to only a few punnets of strawberries. Association representatives said that showed the majority of reports were copycats or false.
“Controlling bad public behavior, including product tampering, is a challenge beyond the control of farmers. All of government and industry is currently undertaking intensive review of the events and behaviors that brought the Queensland strawberry industry to its knees,” according to the association’s statement.
“There was never an issue with the quality, integrity and freshness of local grown strawberries. It was a crisis driven by social media and the only real victims were the strawberry growers, and to some extent other Australian fruit growers and exporters.
“People who make claims of tampering via social media instead of contacting the authorities are questionable and should be brought to account. If the claims are false, attention seeking or attempting to gain financial advantage, they should face criminal charges. All farmers and growers sincerely hope there will not be a repeat of past events.”
Contamination affected three brands – Berry Obsession, Berry Licious and Donnybrook – and the scare spread to New Zealand. Health officials issued advice to cut up strawberries before eating them.
The Australian government previously announced AU $1 million (U.S. $730,000) to increase food safety officials to help detection, fast track recalls, and assist the strawberry sector to rebuild confidence.
The maximum penalty for contaminating, threatening to and making false statements about contamination of goods was also increased from 10 to 15 years.
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