The strawberry industry is furiously installing metal detectors in its production centres in an effort to convince retailers their product is safe from contamination.

Robert Marguccio, APPMA vice chair and head of packaging at Heat & Control says, “We have been flat out supplying strawberry producers, and are now air freighting in additional metal detectors from Ceia in Italy. I imagine every supplier is the same.”

However, the effectiveness of metal detectors is limited to the start of the supply chain, and as police believe that it may be that the needles are not being inserted at source, due to the contamination impacting multiple brands from different locations, other solutions may be required.

The strawberry crisis has the industry looking at implementing longer terms solutions, which could include a covering barrier, a tamper evident seal, and hardened plastic, all of which would make it more difficult to discretely insert foreign objects into the strawberries, but all of which would add costs to the product, which had been selling for as little as $1 a punnet.

So far some two dozen separate strawberry contamination incidents have been reported, across six states, and in eight brands. In addition a pin was found yesterday in a Pink Lady apple from a six pack at a supermarket in The Ponds, NSW, that is thought to have been deliberately inserted, and a 62 year old woman with mental health issues was found inserting a needle into a banana in Maryborough, Qld.

Prior to the needle crisis that is pushing already struggling strawberry farmers to the edge, few if any strawberry packing lines had metal detectors, or any kind of system for seeing foreign objects in the punnets.

Marguccio says, “The Ceia system suplied by Heat & Control looks tray by tray and can detect an object as little as 0.4mm x 5mm. They are based on military metal detectors, in fact you have to walk through one before you meet the US president.”

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