Needles found in punnets of strawberries across Australia has caused a crisis for farmers in the industry. As a result of the contamination, strawberries have been taken off shelves and suppliers have been forced to dump thousands of the berries. Various videos across media sources have documented the huge loss.

Daughter of the owner of Donnybrook Strawberries said about the video, “There is no doubt this is the worst thing to ever happen to my family. This here is a video of our strawberries bring dumped, this here is worth more than you could ever imagine and within three days we lost it all.”

Police have arrested a young boy and a girl related to the case, yet it remains unclear if these are copycat incidents or not. Charges will be made against anyone else found to be copying the incident.

“Obviously in the last few days we found a young person has admitted to a prank, including putting needles in strawberries,” said acting police assistant commissioner, Stuart Smith.

In aid of strawberry farmers, Queensland’s Premier has announced a one-million-dollar fund will be set up.

Currently, A&D Australasia is also helping the industry by selling metal detection technology known as ‘A&D EZICheck’. With a core customer group of food and beverage manufacturers and processors, the company has been working with the berry industry over the last 20 years with an initial focus on weighing systems. Within the previous four years, A&D Australasia has expanded to providing metal detection and, most recently, X-Ray systems as well.

Since the strawberry contamination situation, the product has been in high demand, with many units being sold to businesses across Australia.

“The count is increasing literally by the hour, but to put it in perspective, in the last week we have sold the same amount of systems as we sold in the previous nine months,” said Julian Horsley, systems division, A&D Australasia.

“Metal detection is a lot more complicated than most people would appreciate. In a panic and high-profile situation like this, our primary focus has been to educate growers, producers and supply chains about what is and is not possible. In basic terms, you can’t simply put a whole box of produce through a detector and expect it to find a thin item like a needle. The larger the amount of product and the larger the metal detector, the less sensitive they become.”

Conscientious of concerned fruit producers, when the situation arose last week, the company provided a quick video to help the industry what is and is not possible.

“If the situation is not already bad enough for those affected, it could be a lot worse if they find they have bought a system that simply is not going to do what they were expecting, let alone the potential for something to pass to market after it was deemed to be safe,” said Horsley.

The specific design purpose for the A&D EZICheck was to check for metal contamination in packaged consumer goods – typically on a conveyor or inline situation. Food industry standards have required metal detector and X-Ray systems for decades, and while some fresh produce companies have chosen to invest in contaminant detection systems, the sector has been able to gain exceptions because the reality is that the chances of metal finding its way into a fresh produce pack is negligible. Having an A&D EZICheck will provide growers and suppliers with a sense of security, knowing their produce will be free from metal contaminants, helping prevent a similar incident from occurring in future.

Being a local subsidiary, A&D’s major point of difference to other similar products is that it invests in holding local stock in Australia. In a situation like this, the company is able to deploy solutions faster and in higher volume than other providers.

The biggest challenge the company faces currently is fast-tracking its regular sea freight stock orders from Tokyo to be shipped by air. A second challenge is having enough factory trained technicians in the field to deploy the systems as the company ensures professional installation of its systems to be sure they are in working order.

“As a company, we have decided not to pass on any additional costs to growers, so we will be absorbing the substantially high cost of air freight vs sea,” said Horsley.

Horsley commented that the biggest challenge for the berry industry, aside from the obvious commercial impact, would be the rapid learning curve the industry now faces to prevent a similar event and the disruption they will be presented with, having to add another type of technology to their existing process.

“Whilst details are still sketchy, this terrible situation now has probably come as an isolated incident of deliberate sabotage, followed by cases of “copycat” actions. The risk for fresh produce contamination remains virtually zero, but the retailers are insisting that product is now checked to help prove that it wasn’t contaminated at the point of produce and packing.”

Primary stock holding for that A&D EZICheck is in Adelaide with smaller volumes in Sydney and Melbourne along with a demonstration system in Auckland, Brisbane, Hobart and Perth. A&D Australasia is the Australia and New Zealand subsidiary of A&D Company Ltd, Japan. The company manufactures, sells and supports weighting and inspection technology and systems.

“Our focus at A&D is to help our fresh produce customers, especially ones we have dealt with for many years. Consumer safety and confidence is ultimately what we all want to see, but right now it is tragic to see that the reckless actions of a small number of people can have such a devastating impact on some of the hardest working people in our society.”

Find the A&D information video here