Grocery store aisle
A 25-year-old dancer named Órla Baxendale passed away on Jan. 11, after she suffered a severe allergic reaction and went into anaphylactic shock.
Baxendale consumed a Vanilla Florentine Cookie that was "manufactured by Cookies United and sold by Stew Leonard’s, which contained undisclosed peanuts," as shared by a law firm representing the late dancer's family.
Calling it a "tragic oversight," the statement noted that the cookies in Stew Leonard’s stores located in Danbury and Newington, Connecticut, sold between Nov. 6 and Dec. 31, have been recalled.
The law firm further stated that initial investigations into the situation surrounding Baxendale's death found that it happened because of "gross negligence and reckless conduct of the manufacturer and/or sellers who failed to properly identify the contents of the cookie on the packaging." In turn, a "devastating yet preventable outcome" occurred.
A press release shared around the same time also stated that the dancer's family wanted to thank people around the world for their support, while describing Baxendale as "a radiant and brave soul who pursued her dreams relentlessly, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of those who knew her."
Baxendale was originally from Manchester, England, and she moved to New York City to study dance at the Ailey School. Throughout her career, she performed in New York Fashion Week and was part of a dance production at Lincoln Center.
Both Stew Leonard's and Cookies United have responded to the situation with conflicting statements about how the mislabeled cookies came to be sold in stores.
"We have very strict food safety practices and one of them is having all proper ingredients listed on our labels. Unfortunately, we are buying these cookies from a company who never told us they changed the ingredients," said the grocery store's CEO Stew Leonard Jr. "We sold them in good faith and one customer was affected. We were devastated to learn this news and our family is sending our deepest condolences."
Reacting to Stew Leonard's statement, via News 12, Cookies United rebutted the CEO's claim that they didn't disclose the change of ingredients: "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 stated that cookies were repackaged and rebranded with the Stew Leonard's label, alleging that therefore "the incorrect label was created by, and applied to, their product by Stew Leonard’s."
Cookies United also shared that they have been working with the New York State Department of Agriculture, which reportedly said that they were "in compliance" with all of the regulations regarding the Vanilla Florentine Cookies.
Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Bryan Cafferelli also commented on the case, stating that they are working with the Department of Public Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and more "to determine how this error happened and prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future."