Australia’s biggest supermarket chain is halting the sale of sewing needles in response to a growing trend of people hiding them in strawberries and other fruit.
Woolworths announced Thursday that it was temporarily removing needles from sale, according to the Reuters news agency. All 995 Woolworths branches are affected.
Though most of the recent incidents have involved strawberries, there has been at least one case of needles found in an apple, a banana, and a mango.
Two people have spent time at a hospital after accidentally eating one of the needles. One person — a child — has been arrested on suspicion of putting needles in strawberries.
On Wednesday, an Australian government minister said at least 100 reports had been received of needles in fruit. Some of the reports may be false alarms.
The phenomenon — which has turned many Australians off buying strawberries and thrown Australia’s fruit industry into chaos— appears to have worsened over the past week.
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.
Cases have since been reported in many parts of the country, according to this map compiled by News.com.au.
On Thursday, lawmakers in Australia passed new legislation increasing the jail term for those convicted of hiding needles in fruit to 15 years.
You can read the full amendment to the Criminal Code Act 1995 here.
On Wednesday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said anybody who hid a needle in a strawberry was “a coward and a grub.”
“It’s not a joke. It’s not funny,” he told reporters. “You are putting the livelihoods of hardworking Australians at risk, and you are scaring children.”
He added: “And if you do that sort of thing in this country, we will come after you, and we will throw the book at you.”
The governments of Western Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland are all offering a reward of 100,000 Australian dollars, or $72,000, for information.
The police said Wednesday that they had arrested one person in connection with the phenomenon.
“In the last two days we found a young person has admitted to a prank, including putting needles in strawberries, and he’ll be dealt with under the youth cautioning system,” Stuart Smith, a senior officer in the New South Wales police force, said, according to News.com.au.