A 20-year old professional dancer from New York City tragically died this week after eating cookies that contained undeclared peanuts. The cookies, called Florentine Lace cookies, were purchased from the Stew Leonard’s grocery store chain, which has locations in Connecticut and New York.
The dancer, identified as Orla Baxendale, suffered anaphylaxis after eating the cookies at a gathering of friends in Connecticut. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be fatal if not treated immediately with epinephrine. Baxendale had a known severe peanut allergy, but the cookies she consumed were mislabeled and failed to state on the packaging that they contained peanuts.
On January 21st, Baxendale attended a small social gathering in Norwalk, CT where the Florentine Lace cookies were served. According to guests at the party, the cookies were brought by a friend who had purchased them earlier that day from the Stew Leonard’s store in Danbury, CT.
After consuming one or two of the cookies, Baxendale began feeling ill and displayed symptoms consistent with a severe allergic reaction. Friends at the gathering recognized that Baxendale was going into anaphylactic shock and called 911. Emergency responders arrived quickly but attempts to save Baxendale’s life were unsuccessful. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
In the following days, health investigators determined that the cookies contained peanut protein despite no peanut ingredients being listed. The trace amounts were enough to trigger a deadly reaction in someone with a peanut allergy. Stew Leonard’s has initiated a recall of the cookies from all their stores and the supplier, Cookie Time LLC which is based in Islip, NY, is cooperating fully with state health departments.
Friends and family said that Baxendale had dreamed from a young age of becoming a professional ballet dancer. She grew up in the Bronx where she first began taking dance lessons. As a teen she attended the prestigious High School of Performing Arts before being accepted to the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Baxendale’s peanut allergy was discovered early in childhood but never slowed down her ambitious goals. Friends remarked at her sense of optimism and joy both on stage and off. Her family is still grieving the sudden loss of a talented, determined young woman who leaves behind dreams unfulfilled.
Food allergy reactions resulted in over 200 deaths per year in the U.S. for most of the past decade. An estimated 32 million Americans have food allergies, with peanuts being one of the most common triggers. Allergic reactions can range from mild irritation to full anaphylaxis which constricts airways and causes a precipitous drop in blood pressure. Without swift administration of epinephrine to counteract the reaction, death can occur within minutes.
Accidental ingestion of allergens poses a constant risk for those with severe food allergies. Advocacy groups have pushed for clearer food labeling laws and better public awareness of allergies. They also have worked to expand availability of medical devices like EpiPens that can save lives during reactions. However, mistakes on food packaging continue to happen with sometimes tragic outcomes.
|Type of Food Allergy Reaction
|Tingling in mouth, hives, digestive upset
|Swelling of face/extremities, vomiting, diarrhea
|Antihistamines, possible epinephrine
|Constricted airways, dizzy, low BP, loss of consciousness
|Epinephrine, supplemental oxygen
The Baxendale family has retained counsel to investigate potential legal action against Stew Leonard’s and Cookie Time LLC. Their lawyer stated the death was “preventable” and that Baxendale’s nut allergy was serious enough that ingestion of even minute traces of peanuts could put her in mortal danger.
While Cookie Time maintains they did properly disclose peanut content to the retailer, Stew Leonard’s could potentially face negligence charges for failing to take adequate precautions with allergen products. However, legal experts say successfully proving liability in cases of accidental contamination can still pose challenges.
In a statement, Stew Leonard’s President and CEO Stew Leonard Jr. said the company was “saddened by this extremely unfortunate incident.” He stressed that customer safety is paramount for the business.
The grocery chain has initiated a sweeping recall of all Cookie Time Florentine Lace cookies from their stores. Signage about the recall has been posted prominently at all Stew Leonard’s locations warning those with peanut allergies not to consume them.
For its part, Cookie Time LLC said it did properly label the cases of Florentine cookies bound for Stew Leonard’s as containing peanut residue. However, the packages ultimately received by consumers did not contain allergen warnings. The reason for this breakdown in communication between distributor and retailer remains unclear.
Cookie Time CEO Barry Webber extending condolences to the Baxendale family. He stated that while Cookie Time strives for the highest standards in quality control, they “cannot undo what has happened here” through some error. Webber said Cookie Time remains ready to cooperate fully with state health department investigations to prevent any reoccurrence.
While investigations into what led to the inaccurate cookie packaging continue, including potential penalties for those responsible, the bigger conversation centers on improving safety standards around food allergens. Some health advocates argue that existing laws contain too many gray areas about when allergen warnings need to be explicit right on packaging when there is potential for cross-contamination.
Clearer requirements could raise production costs for smaller manufacturers and bakeries. But consumer groups maintain the public health necessity should outweigh financial concerns of business. For a family still grieving the loss of a beloved daughter and sister due to an accidental cookie ingestion, the call for food suppliers and policymakers to reconsider their standards could not be more urgent.
- Florentine Cookies Sold at Stew Leonard’s Contain Undeclared Peanuts
- Professional Dancer Dies After Eating Now-Recalled Cookies Sold At Stew Leonard’s; Family’s Lawyer Called Death “Preventable”
- Cookies sold at Stew Leonard’s recalled
- One death associated with peanuts in Stew Leonard’s Florentine cookies
- Cookie company says Stew Leonard’s was notified product contained peanuts
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