A Guide on the Penalties for Contaminating Food in NSW

By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.


The tradition of biting into a slice of cake, perhaps coated with creamy frosting or topped with fresh fruit, is undeniably one of life’s little pleasures. Especially when it’s your birthday.

But imagine taking a mouthful of your very own birthday cake, only to discover a sharp needle buried inside it which could have easily lacerated your mouth or even been swallowed.

This was worryingly the case for Skye Wilson-Wright who, this week, was celebrating her 30th birthday with a strawberry-topped cake when she bit into one of the berries, unearthing a needle wedged in the fruit.

The young woman was taken to hospital in quite possibly the last way one would want to spend a milestone birthday.


Ms Wilson-Wright Taken Aback by “Big Needle” Hidden in Strawberry of Fruit-Topped Birthday Cake

It is reported that on 22 September 2019, Ms Wilson-Wright was eating her chocolate-coated cake when she bit into a needle, lodged inside a strawberry.

According to her stepfather, David Chapman, the discovery of the “big needle” left the Melbourne woman completely shaken and upset.

“She was very shocked and very taken back by it,” Mr Chapman said.

“It was pretty much the whole length of the strawberry. It was actually in her mouth and luckily she pulled it out,” he said.


Ms Wilson-Wright Taken to Austin Hospital After Discomfort in Throat and Sharp Pain

Mr Chapman said although his stepdaughter managed to avoid swallowing the needle, upon removing it from her mouth, she was still suffering a lot of discomfort in her throat along with a sharp pain that did not go away, so they took her to Austin Hospital in Melbourne’s north east.

“We kept an eye on it and she told me it had moved down a bit, so we took her to ER,” Mr Chapman said.

Ms Wilson-Wright ended up spending the night in the emergency room.

While x-rays were carried out, nothing was found inside her. Nevertheless, hospital staff were concerned she may have swallowed another foreign object.

Mr Chapman believed it could have been some other material that was lodged inside the fruit.

“It’s not metal, but it looks like they may have put something else foreign in there.

“It could have been a bit of plastic or end of a toothpick; it could be anything.”

Ms Wilson-Wright was eventually sent home and advised the item would pass on its own.

Mr Chapman said his stepdaughter was eating the strawberries with children at the time and it could have easily been one of them that bit into the needle.

The strawberries were bought at a Coles supermarket in Eltham in Melbourne’s outer-north, before being coated in chocolate and placed on top of the cake by a friend.


Coles Speaks to Ms Wilson-Wright after Complaint about Incident

Meanwhile, news.com.au reports a Coles spokesperson addressed the matter with Ms Wilson-Wright after a complaint was made about the incident.

“Coles takes the safety of the food we sell seriously, and we have spoken to the customer to follow up their complaint,” the spokesperson said.

“We have worked with our strawberry suppliers to implement additional control measures to ensure strawberries are inspected before they are sent to supermarkets.

“We have notified the police and will follow up with our supplier to investigate the matter.”

Victoria Police confirmed their investigation into the reports of the strawberry contamination in Eltham, along with another similar statement in Fairfield.

They also issue a warning of the serious penalties associated with food contamination.

“The community is reminded that anyone found to be contaminating food products can be charged with a serious indictable offence with penalties including up to 10 years in jail,” Victoria Police said.


Tough Penalties Following 2018 Food Scare: The Law on Food Contamination in NSW

Last year, Australian strawberry growers were rocked as police across the nation scrutinised more than 100 reports of fruit being contaminated with needles and other objects.

The saga dragged on for months during which the berry industry took a hit, with growers claiming hysteria was resulting in copycat crimes.

Ultimately, the nationwide needle scare led to penalties being increased for contaminating food.

New laws were introduced so people contaminating strawberries face more jail time.

These laws were needed urgently to dissuade any copycat offenders and included increasing the maximum jail time for contaminating food from 10 to 15 years.

A new offence of recklessly contaminating fruit was also introduced, carrying a similar jail time.

For more details on this, contact our criminal lawyers located in Sydney who appear across all courts.


A Guide on the Penalties for Contaminating Food in NSW

As per section 93J of the Crimes Act 1900, to “contaminate” goods includes to interfere with the goods, or make it appear that the goods have been contaminated or interfered with. This includes lodging needles into fruit or other foods and poisoning food.

In NSW, the penalties for contaminating food with intent to cause public alarm or economic are contained in section 93K of the Crimes Act 1900.

Anyone who commits this crime will face a maximum 10-year imprisonment if he/she:

  1. ‘Contaminates’ ‘goods’; and
  2. Does this with the intention to cause:
    • Public alarm or anxiety; or
    • Economic loss through public awareness of the contamination.

“Goods” includes any substance or article, whether or not for human consumption, and whether natural or manufactured, and whether or not incorporated or mixed with other goods.

Note that a person who threatens to commit this offence will also face a 10-year maximum penalty pursuant to section 93L Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

The same maximum penalty applies to anyone who makes a false statement that goods have been contaminated with the intent of inducing that person to believe the statement where he/she intended to also cause public alarm or anxiety or economic loss through the public awareness of the contamination (section 93M Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)).

The most serious type of this offence carries a maximum penalty of 25-years imprisonment under section 93O Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

According to section 93O, anyone who commits this offence in circumstances that the goods ends up causing death or grievous bodily harm to a person (or even where the perpetrator intended to cause this from the contamination) will face the maximum punishment of 25-years in gaol.

Penalties for grievous bodily harm in NSW as a separate offence is outlined in an article that we have previously covered.

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