Dancer with severe peanut allergy dies after eating mislabelled cookies

Órla Baxendale, 25, died of anaphylactic shock on Jan. 11, 2024, after she consumed a cookie from Stew Leonard's that she assumed, based on the label, was peanut-free. Instagram @momixoffical

A 25-year-old woman died in Connecticut after she ate a cookie from the American grocery store chain Stew Leonard that had not been properly labelled as containing peanuts.

Órla Baxendale, a 25-year-old dancer, died of anaphylactic shock on Jan. 11 after she ate Stew Leonard’s vanilla Florentine cookies which she assumed, based on the label, were safe for her to consume despite her severe peanut allergy. Baxendale’s EpiPen, a medication used to decrease one’s allergic reaction, could not save her life.

Stew Leonard’s, which has locations in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, issued a recall for their seasonal Florentine cookies on Thursday, citing undeclared peanuts and eggs. The recall disclosed that one reported death “may be associated with the mislabeled product.”

Baxendale’s family is now suing the grocer over claims of gross negligence and reckless conduct. In a press release from the family’s legal team, lawyers called Baxendale’s death “devastating” but “preventable.”

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A box of Florentine cookies from Stew Leonard’s. DCP

The lawyers said Baxendale moved from her hometown in East Lancashire, U.K., to New York in order to pursue a career as a dancer.

“Her sudden loss is not only a personal tragedy for her family and friends but also a significant loss to the artistic community,” the law firm’s statement reads. “Órla’s vibrant spirit and her relentless pursuit of excellence in her art have left an indelible mark on all who knew her.”

Baxendale’s dance company, MOMIX, shared a social media post announcing her death. The company called Baxendale the “embodiment of enthusiasm, strength, and beauty.”

Órla Baxendale moved to New York from the U.K. in the hopes of launching her career as a professional dancer. Gair, Gair, Conason, Rubinowitz, Bloom, Hershenhorn, Steigman, and Mackauf

The cause of the mislabelling is currently under investigation.

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On Wednesday, the day before the grocer’s recall was issued, Stew Leonard’s president and CEO, Stew Leonard Jr., released a video statement. In it, Leonard Jr. said he and the grocery store’s employees were “devastated” to learn of Baxendale’s death.

While surrounded by four uniformed employees, Leonard Jr. said the Florentine cookies were purchased from an outside supplier, identified as Cookies United. Leonard Jr. claimed the supplier changed their recipe — swapping soy nuts for peanuts — without alerting the grocery chain’s chief safety officer.

In a press release of their own, Cookies United contested this claim, and said they alerted Stew Leonard’s via email in July 2023 that the Florentine cookies would now contain peanuts.

Leonard Jr. said the company “takes labels very seriously” and has a “very rigorous process” used for identifying the ingredients used in their products, especially when it comes to peanuts.

He said about 500 packages of Stew Leonard’s Florentine cookies were sold over the holidays.

Leonard Jr. assured customers that the food purchased from his grocery stores is safe.

Stew Leonard’s Florentine cookies, which were recalled in both chocolate and vanilla flavours, were only sold at the grocer’s Danbury and Newington, Conn. locations. The Florentine cookies were sold from November 6 to December 31, 2023.

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Órla Baxendale died on Jan. 11, 2024, after consuming a Florentine cookie purchased at Stew Leonard’s that was mislabelled as being peanut-free. Angus Mordant/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The grocery store chain said it is working with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) and the supplier of the cookies to determine the cause of the labelling error.

DCP Commissioner Bryan Cafferelli called Baxendale’s death “a heartbreaking tragedy that should never have happened.”

“DCP Food Investigators are working hard with the Department of Public Health, local health departments, officials in New York State and New Jersey, the Food and Drug Administration and Stew Leonard’s to determine how this error happened and prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future,” Cafferelli said in a statement. “Our condolences go out to the family affected by this incident.”

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Promoting life-saving epinephrine injection pens

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