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Sewing needles in strawberries devastate Australian farmers

Risks take many shapes and forms. The latest comes in the seemingly innocent guise of a sewing needle. It’s not front page news in the UK, but the discovery of needles hidden in strawberries, has caused alarm across Australia.

Punnets of contaminated strawberries have been reported across six Australian states, with several brands being recalled.

The Queensland Strawberry Growers’ Association said the needles may have been placed by a ‘disgruntled employee’. However, police said it was too early to speculate. There are fears some incidents are the work of copycats and not just the work of one individual.

Some growers are installing metal detectors to inspect fruit before it leaves their farm, in a bid to reassure customers that it is safe to eat.

Mercifully only one man has been taken to hospital having eaten a strawberry containing a needle, but it has devastated the industry.

Shoppers have been spooked as the contamination scandal has spread and wholesale prices have plummeted, slumping to just 33 cents a punnet. A price that is below the cost of production.

New Zealand’s two largest food distributors – Countdown and Foodstuffs – have stopped importing Australian strawberries because of the scare.

At Crisis Solutions we encourage clients, particularly those involved in retail, to run crisis simulation exercises that focus on their supply chain, typically looking at unethical behaviour or modern slavery. But as this story indicates, something as simple as a needle in a strawberry can have industry wide consequences.

Compared to a cyber-attack or data-breach this is a very low-tech crisis, but as Australian farmers are discovering, it is equally devastating.