Tik Tok user James Lieschke has apologised for his and an elderly friend's actions in a video that prompted a Harris Farm Markets to destroy produce over concerns about safe food handling.
Mr Lieschke, who has more than 81,000 followers, confirmed to the Newcastle Herald the video was filmed inside Harris Farm Markets at Cooks Hill and Coles at The Junction, both in NSW's Hunter Valley.
It shows an elderly woman using her hands instead of a scoop to pick produce including nuts and dried apricots out of containers and putting them in her mouth - which in some cases is covered by a mask - or Mr Lieschke's hands.
It has since been taken down, but has been shared on Reddit, where users have called it 'disgusting', 'revolting', 'disrespectful' and 'grossly unhygienic even if there wasn't a global pandemic going on'.
Harris Farm Markets said in a statement it takes food safety and handling practices "incredibly seriously and we are disappointed to see a customer flagrantly disregarding these measures".
"Seeing behaviour of this kind occur within Harris Farm is absolutely unacceptable, particularly in the current climate," it said.
"This matter is currently under internal investigation.
"It has also been formally reported to police who will be conducting further investigation into both this incident and the people involved.
"We would like to reassure all consumers that upon becoming aware of this video, all produce handled by the shopper was immediately destroyed, and all shelves, bins and affected areas have undergone a deep cleaning process as per NSW COVID Safe protocols.
"All affected scoop and weigh bulk foods items... have undergone the same disposal and deep cleaning process as part of this procedure."
Coles was contacted for comment.
Mr Lieschke told the Herald he had contacted both stores "and spoken to a manager expressing my regret and apologies and have offered to help with the clean-up and financial reimbursement for goods".
"[I'm] deeply regretful of my actions and hadn't anticipated the fallout," he said. He also hadn't expected the "malicious, abusive and hurtful reaction, especially towards [my friend]".
Mr Lieschke wrote on Reddit he was "genuinely so sorry for our actions".
"The point of this video was to try and create a light-hearted fun look at something I thought we all do," he wrote.
"In retrospect I can see how it definitely didn't come across that way and rather it was insensitive, inappropriate and naive, especially considering the current pandemic circumstances."
He said the footage was shot "months ago, when the restrictions were different and over several separate occasions" and told the Herald this was around April.
"This is still not an excuse, I'm just trying to explain that pulling current stock would be unproductive," he wrote.
"I absolutely understand that this video sends a negative message, encouraging stealing, however I just want to stress again that these videos are taken on many different occasions and stitched together to dramatise the effect of what she was doing."
He said the pair were "well aware of the COVID-19 situation and are following every rule and regulation".
He asked for his friend to not be disrespected.
"[She] is a beautiful warm hearted lady and I think it is unfair to jump to conclusions, call her awful names and wish her ill health for this."
He said the experience had been a valuable lesson about the power of social media, the potential for people to jump to conclusions and how his videos could impact others.
"I meant no disrespect by dramatising the experience but understand how I might have offended people in the process. COVID isn't a joke and I should have been more careful."