Ballet Dancer Dies After Extreme Allergic Reaction to a Mislabeled Cookie

By: Lauren Fokas | Published: Feb 05, 2024

Órla Baxendale, a 25-year-old British ballet dancer, died earlier this month after going into anaphylactic shock from just one cookie.

Baxendale lived with a severe peanut allergy, but tragically, the cookie she bought at a Stew Leonard’s grocery store had peanuts inside, though the label didn’t mention them as an ingredient or even as a possible contamination.

Órla Baxendale Was an “Exquisite Dancer”

Young Baxendale had moved to New York from England to pursue a career as a professional dancer. 

Órla Baxendale dancing ballet in a green leotard

Source: @Órla_baxendale/Instagram

Her obituary explained that Órla was the “embodiment of enthusiasm, strength, and beauty” and “an exquisite ballet, contemporary, and Irish step dancer.” And her family and friends are absolutely devastated by her passing.

The Dancer’s Attorney Reports She Was “Hyper-Vigilant” About Her Allergy

As well as being a wonderful dancer and woman, her attorney has reported that by all accounts, Órla was incredibly careful about staying far away from peanuts due to her allergy. 

Woman refusing a plate of nuts

Source: Freepik

The attorney said in a statement, “Órla was very careful and hyper-vigilant about everything she ate.”

Órla Always Had an EpiPen Ready for an Emergency

The attorney also said, “She always carried an EpiPen with her and surrounded herself with people who know how to administer one.” And Órla did, in fact, have an EpiPen with her the day she died. 

Person using an EpiPen in their thigh

Source: Adobe Stock

According to her lawyer, “After she began to have an anaphylactic reaction, an EpiPen was used, but due to the severity of her allergy, it was not effective.”

She Even Checked the Ingredient List of Everything She Ate

Órla Baxendale’s attorney also wanted to make it perfectly clear that she “always thoroughly checked the ingredients on all packaging.”

Close-up of an ingredients list on a package including possible allergens

Source: Unsplash

And that Órla would have undoubtedly checked the ingredients of a cookie, which often have nuts or are marked as having possible contamination. 

The Cookies that Killed Órla Baxendale Had No Mention of Peanuts on the Box

The cookie that led to Órla’s anaphylactic reaction on consequent passing was from a box of Vanilla Florentine Cookies made by Cookies United.

Cookies United Vanilla Florentine Cookies

Source: Cookies United

She bought the cookie at a Stew Leonard’s grocery store in Connecticut, which claimed they were never told by Cookies United that the treats contained any peanuts.


Cookies United Is Arguing That Stew Leonard’s Was Informed of the Change in Recipe

There is no doubt that the ingredient list on the cookies Órla bought did not have any warning about peanuts. However, Cookies United, which manufactures the cookies, is claiming that they informed Stew Leonard’s about the change in recipe.

Logo for Cookies United baking company

Source: Cookies United

Cookies United wants to make it clear that  “This product is sold under the Stew Leonard’s brand and repackaged at their facilities. The incorrect label was created by, and applied to, their product by Stew Leonard’s.”


What Stew Leonard’s Had to Say About the Mislabeled Cookies

Within its statement, Cookies United even included a copy of the supposed email that explains the change of recipe. But of course, Stew Leonard’s is claiming that they received no such notification.

Exterior of a Stew Leonard’s grocery store and the company’s policies

Source: LinkedIn

However, until this case goes to court and a judge rules on which company is at fault, whatever both organizations are claiming should be considered hearsay. 


Stew Leonard Jr. Is Devastated

Legally, Stew Leonard Jr., owner of Stew Leonard’s grocery stores, is claiming that Cookies United is at fault. However, Mr. Leonard still released a personal video less than two weeks after Órla passed, expressing his extreme sadness regarding the tragic accident.

Shopping bag with Stew Leonard’s logo within the produce section of the store

Source: @stewleonards/Instagram

In his video, Leonard said, “I have four daughters, one of them is in their 20s. I can imagine how that family feels right now, and we’re all just very, very sad about this whole thing.”


Stew Leonard’s Never Wants Another Death to Happen Because of a Purchase at its Store

In addition to the heartfelt video, Stew Leonard’s is also taking action to ensure something like this never happens again.

Peanut cookies on a table next to a brown paper bag

Source: Freepik

The director of public relations, Meghan Bell, said, “The cookies contain undeclared peanuts and eggs. People with an allergy or severe sensitivity to peanuts or eggs run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume these products. One death has been reported that may be associated with the mislabeled product.”


Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection Is Also Taking Action

Bryan Cafferelli, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection agency, said in a public statement that Baxendale’s passing was a “heartbreaking tragedy.”

Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection Bryan Cafferelli speaks at a press conference

Source: @Conneticut Department of Consumer Protection/Facebook

And that he and his team, as well as officials in similar offices of other states, are working together to “prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future.”


A Completely Preventable Tragedy

Of course, Órla Baxendale’s friends and family are devastated by this horrific tragedy and are taking this time to celebrate her life and mourn their loss. 

Órla Baxendale poses for the camera

Source: @Órla_baxendale/Instagram

But many hope that her story will ignite change within the food industry and among government officials to not just promise change, but actually make it and keep consumers safe around the world.