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 January 26, 2024

Professional dancer Órla Baxendale dies from allergic reaction after consuming improperly labeled cookies

Professional dancer Órla Baxendale, 25, died from complications of an allergic reaction after ingesting cookies that were not properly labeled as containing peanuts, the New York Post reported. A law firm representing her family is attempting to get to the bottom of how this happened.

The Vanilla Florentine cookies were a holiday treat sold at Stew Leonard's grocery store. The young woman ate one while attending a social event in Connecticut on Jan. 11.

She believed they did not contain peanuts based on the labeling on the package. Baxendale went into anaphylactic shock and died from exposure to peanuts.

"Órla’s passing stemmed from an unfortunate incident involving the consumption of a cookie manufactured by Cookies United and sold by Stew Leonard’s, which contained undisclosed peanuts. This tragic oversight has led to the recall of the Vanilla Florentine Cookies from Stew Leonard’s stores in Danbury and Newington, CT, for the period of November 6 – December 31, 2023," a statement from the family's attorney Marijo Adimey said Wednesday.

The lawyer said that an investigation into the matter revealed there was "gross negligence and reckless conduct of the manufacturer and/or sellers" because the cookies were not properly labeled with the allergen. "This failure in proper disclosure has led to this devastating yet preventable outcome," Adimey added.

Baxendale was living in New York City after moving from her native Manchester, U.K., home to study dance in 2018. She was training on scholarship at the prestigious Ailey School at the time she emigrated.

The young dancer had graced the stage at the Lincoln Center and at New York Fashion Week. Now, all that's left for her family is making sure this never happens to another family.

Both sides are still disputing who is at fault for this tragic mistake. Representatives for Stew Leonard’s blame the Long Island bakery that makes the cookies for not properly informing the store of the addition of peanuts.

"I’m here with our family and, I mean we’re just all devastated, very sad. I have four daughters, one of them is in her 20s. I can imagine how that family feels right now," the store's CEO, Stew Leonard Jr., said in a video statement.

However, United Cookies, the bakery that supplied the treats to the grocery store, said Stew Leonard's dropped the ball. "Stew Leonard’s claimed in an earlier press release that ‘the cookies contain peanuts, which was an ingredient not disclosed to Stew Leonard’s by the manufacturer,'" the wholesaler said in a statement Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, considering the tragedy of these circumstances, we need to point out that Stew Leonard’s was notified by Cookies United in July of 2023 that this product now contains peanuts, and all products shipped to them have been labeled accordingly," the company added. The store failed to put that fact on its own labeling when repackaging for sale.

The cookies have since been recalled, and a warning has been placed on the company's website about the new ingredients, including peanuts and eggs. Public health officials warn that people with allergies should always check labels and carry lifesaving medication like EpiPens.

This is an unfortunate incident that had the worst imaginable outcome. While there may be ways to prevent it in the future, it speaks to an increasingly susceptible population as food allergies are on the rise with no clear way to explain or prevent them.

Written By:
Christine Favocci

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