In September 2018 a 21-year-old man was rushed to hospital in Queensland after swallowing a sewing needle that was embedded in a strawberry. Other instances of needles in strawberries were soon reported around Australia.
The needles in strawberries episode was a disaster for the berry growers as truckloads of fruit were dumped and fearful consumers stopped buying. The first contaminated fruit was found in Queensland. At first, it was thought that a Woolworths supermarket worker may have been behind the sabotage, but this theory was discarded as further discoveries were made in other states. Nonetheless, Woolworths recalled strawberries from its shops in NSW, Victoria and Queensland after several punnets were found to be contaminated with sewing needles.
The situation was further complicated by the wide social media coverage – police investigated dozens of copycat and hoax cases and needles or pieces of metal were also reportedly found in other fruit including a banana, an apple and a mango. Authorities issued warnings and urged people to cut up their fruit before eating. Export sales were also affected with buyers rejecting Australian fruit.
On 11 November 2018, police arrested a woman who had worked as a supervisor at the Berrylicious and Berry Obsession berry farm in Wamuran, north of Brisbane and charged her with the sabotage. The arrest was made on the basis of DNA recovered from one of the needles.
My Ut Trinh was charged with eight counts of contamination of goods and could have been jailed for up to 10 years if she had been convicted. It was not clear how many of the 230 reported incidents were said to be of her doing. It was alleged she put needles in strawberries as revenge against her employer, Kevin Tran, although why she was unhappy with him was not known.
Court proceedings were delayed for three years by legal arguments involving Trinh’s defence lawyers and the prosecution. In July 2021, the charges were finally dropped when the prosecution admitted it was unlikely to secure a conviction.