An Australian woman accused of contaminating strawberries with needles allegedly did so out of spite.
Australian police arrested My Ut Trinh, 50, a supervisor at a strawberry farm in Caboolture, Queensland, on Sunday. She appeared before Brisbane Magistrates Court on Monday and was charged with seven counts of contamination of goods. Trinh could face a maximum of 10 years behind bars, if found guilty.
Magistrate Christine Roy told the court that Trinh was “motivated by some spite or revenge,” the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
“She has embarked on a course over several months of putting a metal object into fruit,” Roy said.
Although Trinh will remain in custody until her next hearing on Nov. 22, the police investigation into the incident is far from over.
The public health scare has gripped the country since mid-September when strawberries containing needles were first discovered in Queensland, the third most populous of Australia’s six states. A 21-year-old man who consumed one of the contaminated berries was rushed to the hospital with “severe abdominal pains.”
“Driving up to the coast when Hoani van Dorp bites through a strawberry and swallows half a sewing needle,” Joshua Gane, the victim’s friend, wrote in a Facebook post at the time. “We then checked the other strawberries and found another sewing needle lodged inside one of them.”
Queensland authorities notified the public of the safety risk on Sept. 12, and reports of needle-filled strawberries cropped up in all of the Australian states in the subsequent weeks. Those finding the spiked fruit included a 7-year-old girl in southern Australia.
At a press briefing on Monday, Queensland Police Detective Jon Wacker said that an additional 230 reports of contamination had been received across the nation following the first on Sept. 8, “impacting 68 strawberry brands, 49 of these being Queensland-based brands.”
“This has probably been one of the most trying investigations that I have been a part of,” he said.
The widespread needle scare prompted recalls on six brands: Donnybrook Berries, Love Berry, Delightful Strawberries, Oasis, Berry Obsession and Berry Licious.
Needles were also reportedly found in at least one mango and at least one banana, though it’s unclear whether these were isolated incidents, possibly executed by a copycat, or if they were related to the strawberries scare.
Queensland Strawberry Growers Association vice president Adrian Schultz told The Associated Press in September that what had started as a single act of “commercial terrorism” had brought a multimillion-dollar industry to its knees.
“I’m angry for all the associated people, it’s the farmers, the people who supply them, the packaging people, the truckies with families to support, who suddenly lose their jobs… it’s far-reaching,” Schultz said.
Queensland police have released few details following Trinh’s arrest and have not speculated on a motive.
“This is a major and unprecedented police investigation with a lot of complexities involved,” Wacker said in an earlier statement. “While the investigation is far from over, I would like to acknowledge the tireless effort of our investigators as well as members from all other agencies across Australia who played a role.”
David Barden contributed reporting.