Reports of redback spiders in broccoli. Picture: Hort Innovation/Applied Horticultural Research
Reports of redback spiders in broccoli. Picture: Hort Innovation/Applied Horticultural Research

Mum’s shock over redback in supermarket broccoli

Exclusive: Nearly 100 redback spiders have been found in supermarket broccoli since 2016, and the horticulture industry says the latest discovery - by a Sydney mother while making dinner - is a "good thing".

Fiona Scotts was breaking up a broccoli head with her hands when she spotted the spider earlier this month.

"I could have easily got bitten," Mrs Scotts, of Bellevue Hill, said.

Her husband Col Scotts, the second Australian to play in the NFL, said: "What if one of our kids had put their hand on it while it was in the fridge?"

Nearly 100 redback spiders have been found in supermarket broccoli since 2016. Picture: Hort Innovation/Applied Horticultural Research
Nearly 100 redback spiders have been found in supermarket broccoli since 2016. Picture: Hort Innovation/Applied Horticultural Research

In the three years to June 2018 there were 88 reports of redbacks in supermarket broccoli, according to research for growers published late last year.

Forty-two finds were made in Queensland, 25 came from South Australia, 11 from NSW, six in Victoria and four from Western Australia.

Sixty-eight were by consumers and the rest by supermarket staff, with May the peak month.

The majority of finds were in 2016, when supermarkets withdrew broccoli from sale in Queensland and NSW.

That led the industry to fund the recently published research by postharvest physiologist Jenny Ekman.

Fiona Scotts, with husband Col Scotts, was breaking up a broccoli head with her hands when she found a redback.
Fiona Scotts, with husband Col Scotts, was breaking up a broccoli head with her hands when she found a redback.

Told by News Corp of the latest discovery, Dr Ekman said: "It is a good thing to find spiders in product because it means that product has not been treated with lots of pesticides."

Similarly, Ausveg spokesman Shaun Lindhe said the presence of redbacks "can be a sign that the farmer is using environmentally sustainable growing practices to reduce the levels of chemicals to control pests in their crops."

Dr Ekman said that like 2016, last summer was warm and dry - ideal for arachnids.

But there hadn't been as many reports this year, because growers "know what bad publicity this is for them so they are doing everything they can to stop it".

This includes having pickers look for them and cleaning harvesters before use.

Reports of redback spiders in broccoli. Picture: Hort Innovation/Applied Horticultural Research
Reports of redback spiders in broccoli. Picture: Hort Innovation/Applied Horticultural Research

The Scotts said they were speaking out to warn others and because they were disappointed by the response from Coles, which sent them what appears to be a template letter and a $50 gift card.

There was no apology in the letter. There was over the phone, a Coles spokeswoman said.

"The way they treated us is absolutely deplorable," Mr Scott said.

Mrs Scott said: "The general public should be aware when they are buying things like broccoli. Don't assume there isn't anything deadly in there."

The Coles spokeswoman said "redback spiders hiding in broccoli crops is an industry-wide issue.

"Coles is working closely with our suppliers and industry bodies to remove any risk.

"All Coles broccoli suppliers are required to keep their fields clean and have pest control systems in place to prevent product contamination during packaging," she said.

"All broccoli is visually inspected at harvest and packing for any pest presence."



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