A NSW mother posted these pictures of strawberries with needles in them to Facebook. Credit: Chantal Faugeras/Facebook

Needles found in Australian strawberries – Expert Reaction

Two of New Zealand’s major supermarket chains have halted the distribution of strawberries from Australia after sewing needles were found in Queensland-grown crops.

Contaminated strawberries have now reportedly been found in all six states and the Australian government has ordered a federal investigation into the incident.

The SMC asked a supply chain expert how far-reaching this sort of food tampering can be, and what New Zealand can do to protect our borders. Please feel free to use these comments in your reporting. 

Professor Nigel Grigg, Professor of Quality Systems, Massey University (Turitea campus) comments:

“As the 2013 horse meat scandal in Europe and Ireland revealed, the more complex and internationalised a supply chains becomes, the harder it is to have effective control over what happens to the product as it travels within the chain.

“Over time, most supply chains have grown to involve multiple intermediary organisations, and each is assumed to be taking ownership of quality at their point in the chain. However, any chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and integrity of the overall system is increasingly difficult to assure.

“Within factories and processing plants, well established process controls and sample-based inspection plans can detect normal processing variations, while metal detectors, visual, chemical and other checks act as a last line of defence before product leaves the loading bay. However, as product moves in a complex path from grower/processor to exporter to shipping company to retailer to customer, there is ample opportunity for individuals who are so inclined to deliberately adulterate the product.

“Wilful sabotage and illegal behaviour is almost impossible to guard against, since inventive individuals can potentially adulterate product with metal, glass, wood, biological or chemical hazards and contaminants – past examples having included dead animals and bodily fluids.

“As we have all experienced with air travel, the only safeguards would be airport-style security checks of all product carried out at ports of entry or by the final retailers. However, the costs of such security would be prohibitive, and it is hard to imagine what battery of tests could effectively identify all conceivable contaminants.

“Food ‘terrorism’ and illegal behaviour in national and international supply chains is not new and remains an ever-present threat. Consumer vigilance will always have to play a significant role.”

No conflicts of interest.