Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
January 29, 2024 ·  4 min read

25-Year-Old Professional Dancer Tragically Dies After Eating Mislabeled Cookie

In a shocking turn of events, a vibrant and talented 25-year-old professional dancer lost her life after consuming a mislabeled cookie. Órla Baxendale, a UK native who had relocated to New York City to pursue her dreams, tragically succumbed to anaphylactic shock caused by a cookie that contained undisclosed peanuts. This heart-wrenching incident has placed the popular supermarket chain Stew Leonard’s and the cookie manufacturer Cookies United at the center of a blame game for this peanut allergy related death.  

Órla Baxendale, a scholarship student at the renowned Ailey School in New York, was at a social gathering on January 11th. It was there that she innocently ate a Vanilla Florentine cookie. Being severely allergic to peanuts, Baxendale ate one of the cookies, unaware that the cookie contained peanuts. This triggered a severe allergic reaction. Baxendale went into anaphylactic shock, leading to her passing. Upon inspection of the cookie’s packaging, the label did not disclose that the cookies contained peanuts or traces of them. The label said that the cookies contained soy, wheat, and milk – but made no mention anywhere of peanuts. The shocking revelation of the cookie’s mislabeling subsequently prompted a recall of the Vanilla Florentine Cookies sold at Stew Leonard’s stores in Danbury and Newington, CT, during the period of November 6 – December 31, 2023. (1)

Negligence and Blame

An investigation conducted after Baxendale’s tragic passing uncovered what her family’s attorney, Marijo Adimey, described as “gross negligence and reckless conduct” on the part of both the cookie’s manufacturer and the sellers. Adimey pointed out the failure to disclose the presence of peanuts on the cookie’s packaging, attributing Baxendale’s preventable death to this oversight. Both Stew Leonard’s and Cookies United, however, have sought to shift responsibility onto each other.

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Store vs. Wholesaler

Stew Leonard’s, a highly regarded supermarket chain, claimed that the Long Island bakery supplying the cookies failed to inform them of a change in ingredients for the Vanilla Florentine Cookies. CEO Stew Leonard Jr. expressed devastation and sympathy for Baxendale’s family, asserting that they were not informed about the cookies containing 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 CEO said in a video response to the tragedy. (2)

On the other hand, Cookies United, the manufacturer, maintained that they had indeed notified Stew Leonard’s of the ingredient change back in July 2023. They claim that it was Stew Leonard’s who changed the packaging to reflect the store’s brand and aesthetic, and that they did not properly update their label according to the new manufacturing process.

“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,’” United Cookies wrote in a statement. “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.” (3)

A Tragic and Preventable Outcome

Tragically, the miscommunication between Stew Leonard’s and Cookies United culminated in a fatal outcome for Órla Baxendale. Her loss has highlighted the importance of proper disclosure and accurate labeling regarding food allergies. The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection has launched an investigation into the incident, involving officials from multiple states and the Food and Drug Administration.

Remembering Órla Baxendale

Órla Baxendale was a talented dancer who had participated in high-profile events such as New York Fashion Week and performances at Lincoln Center. Remembered for her passion, dedication, and vibrant spirit, Baxendale’s untimely death has sent shockwaves through the dance community and beyond. Her tragic story serves as a reminder of the need for increased awareness and vigilance surrounding food allergies.

Preventing Future Tragedies

As the investigation progresses, the hope is that measures will be put in place to ensure that a similar tragedy never occurs again. Experts like Punita Ponda, associate division chief for allergy and immunology at Northwell Health, emphasize the importance of carefully checking labels for allergies and carrying necessary medication, such as an EpiPen, to avoid potential exposure.

“It’s like when you go out and you want to make sure you have your wallet and ID with you. It’s the same thing. If you’re going on and could be exposed to food in any situation, you should bring your EpiPen,” Ponda said.

A Preventable Tragedy

The loss of Órla Baxendale, a promising 25-year-old professional dancer, has left a void in the hearts of her loved ones and the dance community. Her death, resulting from the consumption of a mislabeled cookie, serves as a stark reminder of the devastating consequences that can arise from the failure to disclose potential allergens. This heartbreaking incident has sparked an investigation into the actions of both the store and the manufacturer involved, as efforts are made to prevent such tragedies in the future.

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  1. Professional dancer, 25, dead after eating mislabeled cookies from Stew Leonard’s grocery store.” NY Post. Richard Pollina. January 25, 2024.
  2. Stew Leonards
  3. Cookies United