CALGARY — Calgary police say they’re narrowing their list of suspects after metal items, such as pins and needles, were found stuck in products at a city grocery store on two separate occasions.
The Calgary Co-op store was first closed in mid-January after breads and cheeses were found to contain pins, sewing needles and buttons.
The store closed down again Wednesday night after a customer found a pin in some produce. A staff search turned up a couple of other produce items that had been pricked.
Staff Sgt. Don Coleman said Thursday that police have made significant strides in the investigation, although no one is in custody.
He said police are taking the incident seriously and don’t see it as a prank, even though no one has been hurt by the sharp objects.
“It appears to be more of a … business disruption thing as opposed to any product tampering, because it is quite visible, what’s being done.”
Coleman wouldn’t say whether video surveillance is being examined as part of the investigation. He also wouldn’t comment on whether police think a disgruntled employee could be behind the incidents.
“That’s one of many avenues we’re looking at.”
Co-op spokeswoman Sarah Boutron said the first instances of tampering were found by store employees while the second round was discovered after a customer returned an item.
She said employees have become watchful since the first discovery.
“Our employees … are very vigilant in looking for suspicious behaviour, especially since the incident that happened in January,” she said.
“Many of our employees are very upset about the situation.”
Boutron said the store does have security measures, but she declined to specify whether video surveillance is included.
Other stores have also recently faced tampering scares.
In March 2009, a former Maple Leaf Foods employee was charged with allegedly inserting 13 sewing needles into packages of meat products found in a Guelph, Ont., grocery store. She later pleaded guilty.
In the fall of 2006, police in Kitchener, Ont., investigated meat tampering at a local Schneiders plant. Three empty syringes were found in the plant, including one embedded in a formed ham.
A 29-year-old employee was charged with mischief over $5,000 and common nuisance endangering life, but his case was eventually dismissed.
Incidents of food tampering are reported in Canada about two or three times a year, although actual injuries are rare, said Rick Holley, a food safety expert at the University of Manitoba.
Arrests are pretty common, with police using tools such as fingerprints and video surveillance to nail down a suspect, he said.
Despite the low risk of injury, police usually pursue this type of crime vigorously, Holley said.
“There’s always a risk when this kind of activity takes place that somebody’s going to get injured, and that risk is not good,” he said.
“Charges are usually laid.”