Tragedy Strikes as Young Dancer Dies from Mislabeling of Peanuts in Cookies

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In a heart-wrenching incident, a 25-year-old dancer, Orla Baxendale, lost her life due to a severe allergic reaction after consuming Vanilla Florentine Cookies sold by Stew Leonard’s grocery stores. The packaging did not declare the presence of peanuts, triggering a fatal anaphylactic shock. The tragic event has sparked a blame game between the grocery store and the cookie supplier, Cookies United.

The incident occurred at a social gathering in Connecticut, where Baxendale ingested the cookies containing undisclosed peanuts. Despite immediate medical attention, she succumbed to the allergic reaction, leaving her family and friends in shock. In an official statement, Baxendale’s legal representatives expressed solidarity with her family and acknowledged the overwhelming support from around the world for the vibrant young artist.

Stew Leonard’s, a prominent grocery store chain, claimed innocence, stating they had purchased the now-recalled cookies from Cookies United, a wholesaler based in New York. The store asserted that it was unaware of the presence of peanuts in the product and blamed the supplier for not notifying them about the recipe change. Stew Leonard Jr., the president and CEO of the grocery chain, emphasized their commitment to labeling and safety protocols, expressing sorrow over the customer’s tragic death.

However, Cookies United refuted these claims, insisting that they had notified Stew Leonard’s about the ingredient change in July 2023. They presented a copy of an email sent to 11 employees of Stew Leonard’s, dated July 20, 2023, detailing the inclusion of peanuts in both Vanilla and Chocolate Florentine cookies. The email was accompanied by labels indicating the presence of peanuts. Cookies United further clarified that their product is sold under the Stew Leonard’s brand and undergoes repackaging and relabeling at Stew Leonard’s facilities.

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The recalled cookies, which were available at Stew Leonard’s Danbury and Newington locations from November 6 to December 31, pose a potential threat to individuals with nut allergies. The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection has advised those with nut allergies to discard the cookies immediately. Stew Leonard’s, in response to the incident, is offering a full refund to customers returning the recalled products.

Walker G. Flanary III, general counsel for Cookies United, expressed condolences to the family of the deceased customer and refuted Stew Leonard’s claims. Flanary clarified that the incorrect label, which failed to disclose peanuts, was created and applied by Stew Leonard’s, not Cookies United. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Cookies United has been collaborating with the New York State Department of Agriculture and claims compliance with all relevant rules and regulations.

Stew Leonard’s CEO, in a statement, acknowledged the severity of the incident and the breach of their food safety practices. The grocery store emphasized its commitment to listing all proper ingredients on labels and expressed deep condolences to the affected family. Stew Leonard’s is now under scrutiny for its supplier oversight practices, and this incident has highlighted the potential risks associated with relying on external suppliers for food products.

The tragic death of Orla Baxendale serves as a somber reminder of the critical importance of accurate food labeling and the need for stringent oversight in the food industry. The incident raises questions about the communication channels between suppliers and retailers, urging a reevaluation of safety protocols to prevent such heartbreaking incidents in the future. As investigations unfold, both Stew Leonard’s and Cookies United face intensified scrutiny, emphasizing the imperative to prioritize consumer safety over profit margins in the food supply chain.

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