British ballet dancer dies in US after eating mislabelled cookie

The 25-year-old ballet dancer had a peanut allergy (Instagram/Orla Baxendale)
The 25-year-old ballet dancer had a peanut allergy (Instagram/Orla Baxendale)

A British ballet dancer with a severe peanut allergy has died in the United States after eating a cookie which did not have nuts listed on the label of ingredients.

Órla Baxendale, a 25-year-old woman living in New York, bought the cookie from a Stew Leonard’s grocery store in Connecticut earlier this month.

She was not aware that the Vanilla Florentine Cookies contained peanuts and there was no mention of nuts on the packaging.

Baxendale carried an EpiPen but it was not enough to counter the severe allergic reaction she suffered after eating the cookie, according to a statement issued by her attorneys. She died of anaphylactic shock on 11 January.

“Orla was very careful and hyper-vigilant about everything she ate, and always thoroughly checked the ingredients on all packaging. In addition, she always carried an EpiPen with her and surrounded herself with people who know how to administer one,” the attorney said.

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

The grocery store has since recalled the batch of Vanilla Florentine Cookies. In its recall notice, Stew Leonard’s said that the cookies were produced by Cookies United and only sold at its Danbury and Newington branches.

“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,” said Stew Leonard’s director of public relations Meghan Bell.

Cookies United released a statement and said the company notified Stew Leonard’s in July that the product now contains peanuts.

In a video statement, the owner of the store said: “It’s a sad day for us. We’re just all devastated, very sad,” he 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.”

The Independent has contacted Stew Leonard’s for comment.

Baxendale, originally from East Lancashire, had moved to New York from East Lancashire, England, to pursue a dance career.

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

Her family said they are “devastated by this unimaginable loss.”

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”.