12-year-old admits to putting needles in strawberries

Workers have been carrying out extra checks at Braetop Berries in Queensland

WA Police issued a caution to a primary school child who falsely claimed to find a needle in a strawberry.

Needles have been found inside strawberries in two more Australian states, police said on Monday, broadening a health scare that has caused supermarkets to recall brands and farmers to dump fruit amid the peak growing season.

Most are thought to be pranks or jokes on social media, but at least two minors have been questioned by police for carrying out hoaxes.

In a statement, the supermarket giant confirmed it had taken the precautionary step of temporarily removing sewing needles from sale at all its stores. "The safety of our customers is our top priority", a Woolworths spokeswoman told AAP.

The fruit scare has been given a national and global profile by new Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has addressed it publicly several times in the last few days.

Under Mr Morrison's new laws, anyone found guilty of contaminating food would face a maximum of 15 years in jail.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten appeared in parliament to ask Australians to buy "a punnet for yourself and a punnet for the nation".

NSW Police would not confirm whether or not the child placed a needle in the strawberry, but said she was dealt with under the Young Defender's Act, adding that no further action would be pursued.

Health agencies and police have encouraged consumers to cut fruit before eating
Health agencies and police have encouraged consumers to cut fruit before eating it Credit REUTERS

"That's how seriously I take this", Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Royalla, a rural town 35 km (21 miles) south of the capital Canberra. The majority are not contaminated, and if you find any needles in a pack then you can report it of course.

'Not at this stage, ' they said.

The most serious cases with national security implications will be covered by sabotage offences, with penalties ranging from seven to 25 years' jail.

"The reality is that they should swing for this, they've got to do some time", he told ABC radio on Thursday morning. Instead of throwing away strawberries, simply cut them up and turn them into tasty creations.

The problem came to light from a Facebook post earlier this month by a man who said his friend had swallowed part of a needle hidden in a strawberry and went to the hospital.

The Queensland and NSW governments are offering a reward to catch the culprits.

Current state legislation says any NSW offenders will spend a maximum of 10 years in prison.

'This is a disgusting act created to instil fear in consumers and to undermine our agricultural industry'.

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