25-Year-old professional dancer dies after eating mislabeled cookies from Stew Leonard’s grocery store

The shocking death of a professional dancer in New York City has ignited a contentious blame game between popular supermarket chain Stew Leonard’s and the wholesaler Cookies United.

Both companies are connected to the mislabelled cookie that led to the tragedy, which saw 25-year-old Ă“rla Baxendale lose her life on January 11 after consuming a Vanilla Florentine cookie from Stew Leonard’s, the New York Post reports.

The mislabelled treat contained undisclosed peanuts, triggering a severe allergic reaction that resulted in anaphylactic shock, as confirmed by a law firm representing her family.

Attorney Marijo Adimey, in a statement, revealed that Ă“rla's death was "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."
Adimey further stressed the negligence of both the manufacturer and seller for not including proper allergen disclosure on the packaging.

As a consequence of this oversight, Stew Leonard’s initiated a recall of Vanilla Florentine Cookies sold in their Danbury and Newington, CT stores between November 6 and December 31, 2023.

Baxendale, originally from the UK, consumed the cookie at a social gathering in Connecticut, per News 12. She had moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue her dance dreams and trained as a scholarship student at the Ailey School - a renowned dance institution.
Throughout her career, Baxendale had graced the stages of New York Fashion Week and participated in various dance productions at the prestigious Lincoln Center.

Stew Leonard’s CEO Stew Leonard Jr. expressed deep sympathy for the family's loss, emphasizing the profound impact of such a tragedy. He asserted that the Long Island bakery responsible for supplying the cookies failed to inform them of changes in ingredients, leading to the devastating outcome.

In a video statement alongside employees, Leonard Jr. stated: "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."
On the contrary, Cookies United contended that it had communicated the ingredient change to Stew Leonard's months before the incident. According to the wholesaler, Stew Leonard’s had been notified in the summer of 2023 that the product contained peanuts, and all shipped products were "labeled accordingly".

A statement from Cookies United, released on Tuesday, read: "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. 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."

Cookies United accused Stew Leonard's of repackaging the cookies under their brand without proper allergen disclosure, thus shifting the blame for the mislabeling issue to the supermarket.
In response to this tragic incident, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection Food, Standards, and Product Safety Division (DCP) has initiated an investigation involving officials from Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, the Food and Drug Administration, and Stew Leonard’s.

DCP Commissioner Bryan T. Cafferelli expressed determination to uncover the circumstances surrounding the error and prevent similar tragedies in the future, stating: "This is a heartbreaking tragedy that should never have happened."

Punita Ponda, Northwell Health's associate division chief for allergy and immunology, highlighted the importance of checking food labels for individuals with known food allergies. She emphasized that carrying an EpiPen is crucial when exposed to potential allergens.

Our thoughts are with Baxendale's family and loved ones at this time.

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