Contamination of Goods Offence: There’s a Needle in My Strawberry!

There have been several instances over the last year of needles or other foreign items found in fruit and vegetables in Australia. There has also been a recent case in Melbourne in late August 2019 where a needle has been found inside a strawberry. In this article, we discuss the contamination of goods causing harm or economic loss offence and your options if you have been charged.

Contamination of Goods causing public harm or economic loss

It is an offence in Victoria to contaminate goods which cause public alarm or economic loss. To ‘contaminate’ means to interfere with the goods or to otherwise make it appear that the goods have been contaminated or interfered with.[1] ‘Goods’ are defined to include food, substances not intended for human consumption, manufactured or natural goods and commingled goods.[2] ‘Economic loss’ may result from the public not purchasing the goods as a result of the contamination.

For example, if a worker deliberately posts a video of themselves contaminating wool with itching powder in order to damage the reputation of their employer or a shopper deliberately inserts needles into fruit available for sale at a supermarket, the person may be charged with contaminating goods causing public harm or economic loss.

Elements

The following elements must be established beyond reasonable doubt for you to be found guilty of a ‘contamination of goods offence’:

  1. You deliberately contaminated the specific goods; and
  2. With the intention to cause public alarm or economic loss (through awareness of the contamination).[3]

Possible Penalties for the Contamination of Goods offence

If you are found guilty of the offence, the maximum penalty for ‘contamination of goods causing public alarm or economic loss’ is a term of imprisonment for up to 10 years or a fine of up to 1200 penalty units.[4] However, a court will consider a broad range of circumstances before making any sentencing determination.

Defences

If you have been charged with a ‘contamination of goods offence’, you can argue mistaken identity or that it was not yourself who contaminated the specific goods in question.

You can also argue a mistake of fact or that you did not intend to contaminate the goods (e.g. the goods became contaminated by mistake and not through an intentional act). Additionally, you may also argue that you did not intend to cause public alarm or economic loss from the contamination of goods.

If you have been charged with a ‘contamination of goods offence’, it is essential that you contact an experienced legal practitioner so that the best defence can be identified for your individual case.

[1] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 248(1).
[2] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 248(1).
[3] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 249.
[4] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 249; As at 1 July 2019, the value of 1 penalty unit is $165.22.

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