Local strawberry farmers anxious
Incidents of needles in strawberries in Australia have prompted some Kiwi strawberry farmers to look at buying metal detectors.
The move comes after punnets in various parts of Australia were found with tiny needles inserted into the fruit.
And it seems the contaminated Choice branded berries have reached New Zealand shores with Countdown announcing this week a punnet of strawberries sold at an Auckland store had needles in it.
The chain advised customers to cut up the berries before eating them as a precaution, offered to refund customers who had bought that brand of strawberries and said it would withdraw the brand from its shelves. Strawberry Growers NZ said although the affected berries were from Australia, farmers here were becoming concerned. Some were now looking at adding metal detectors to their production line.
“Some of our guys, like a week or so ago, have already been hunting for metal detectors,” executive manager Michael Ahern said. “But we’ve got to appreciate this is all from a standing start. You can’t go down to The Warehouse and buy one of these things. We’re not accustomed to this type of challenge to our fruit safety systems.”
About 80 growers were associated with the volunteer industry group but there were about 150 strawberry farmers nationwide, not including many smaller businesses.
Ahern said it was important to understand that a lot of strawberry sales in New Zealand were on a personal and intimate level — with sales being carried out at farmers’ markets and local areas within communities.
With the season and crop ready in a matter of about two weeks, he said growers were hoping the public would continue to buy the much-loved fruit.
“What really is the question is would consumers be put off by what they’re hearing, I guess. And so far not. It’s early days, but so far not. I’m not too casual about it either,” he said.
“We’re very worried. There’s a lot of money on the line, it’s a seasonal business and I guess we’re just trying to manage the unknown.”
The Ministry for Primary Industries is now also involved in investigations.
Countdown has revealed a punnet of strawberries sold at an Auckland store had needles in it.