Dancer with allergy eats mislabelled biscuit and dies

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Órla Baxendale’s EpiPen was used, but the young dancer still died from anaphylactic shock on 11 January.
By Chloe Kim
BBC News, New York

A 25-year-old British woman died from anaphylactic shock after eating a cookie which did not say it contained peanuts.

Dancer Órla Baxendale ate the snack from Stew Leonard’s, a grocery store chain in the north-eastern US, and it caused a severe allergic reaction.

An EpiPen was unable to save her.

The grocery store, in partnership with the US Food and Drug Administration, has since recalled the batch of Vanilla Florentine Cookies.

About 500 packages of the cookies were sold, Stew Leonard’s said in a video post about Ms Baxendale’s death. It has asked for customers to return the cookies to their stores.

Ms Baxendale consumed the cookies while in Connecticut, as she was getting ready to perform in the titular role of a dance company’s adaption of Alice in Wonderland, her family told the BBC.

The dancer was “always so careful” about her peanut allergy and she “never left the house without an EpiPen”, her family said.

Though Ms Baxendale’s EpiPen was used, it did not save her – she died on 11 January.

Originally from East Lancashire, she had moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue a dancing career.

She was “an exquisite ballet, contemporary, and Irish step dancer” who was the “embodiment of enthusiasm, strength, and beauty”, her online obituary says.

Stew Leonard’s issued an updated recall of the Vanilla and Chocolate Florentine Cookies on Thursday, following an earlier recall this week, saying “the cookies contain undeclared peanuts and eggs” and that those with an allergy to either food “run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction”.

The product had been sold in two Connecticut towns starting 6 November and they remained on shelves until the end of the year.

Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Bryan Cafferelli called Ms Baxendale’s death “a heartbreaking tragedy”.

He said his state agency was working with local and federal officials as well as other states in an effort to “prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future”.

Stew Leonard’s president and CEO Stew Leonard Jr alleged that the manufacturer changed the ingredients “from soy nuts to peanuts” and the company’s chief safety officer was not notified of the change.

The Long Island manufacturer, Cookies United, challenged that allegation and said that it notified Stew Leonard’s in July 2023 of the recipe change.

General counsel for the company said all products shipped to them were labelled accordingly, adding that the product “is sold under the Stew Leonard’s brand and repackaged at their facilities” with the incorrect label.

Attorneys representing Ms Baxendale’s family said in an online statement that a “preliminary investigation has revealed that Órla’s death occurred due to the gross negligence and reckless conduct of the manufacturer and/or sellers”.

At this time, however, there is no lawsuit against either party.

Ms Baxendale’s family told the BBC that she had been planning to go on a global tour with her dance company, MOMIX.

“The truth is Órla got more out of life in 25 years than most do in a lifetime, and she will now live on in all our hearts forever,” her family added.

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