How a cookie recipe tweak led to the death of NYC ballet dancer, 25 (2024)

A new lawsuit has claimed that a simple cookie recipe tweak led to the death of a New York City ballet dancer 'in the prime of her life.'

Órla Baxendale, 25, died on January 11 from anaphylactic shock after eating Vanilla Florentine Cookies from Connecticut grocery chain Stew Leonard's that contained 'undeclared peanuts,' according to the lawsuit filed last week.

Ms Baxendale, who is from the UK but lived in New York City,was 'hyper-vigilant about everything she ate' and carried an EpiPen.

But her reaction was so severe that the medication was ineffective, according to the family's attorney. Ms Baxendale's parents, Simon and Angela Baxendale, are now seeking damages of at least $15,000.

The suit says that six months before the dancer's death, Cookies United began notifying the grocers about the ingredient change, urging the chain to reflect the update in the product's ingredient label.

Órla Baxendale, 25, suffered an allergic reaction to cookies from a Connecticut store so severe that not even her EpiPen could save her, lawyers said.

The cookies were sold at Stew Leonard's, a regional grocery store chain in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York

According to the lawsuit, 'no less than eleven employees' of Stew Leonard's were 'notified by email of the change in ingredients, including the addition of peanuts to the cookie recipe.

These employees received updated labels with as new ingredient list and nutrition fact panel, 'which stated that the cookies contained, among other things, peanuts.'

'Despite the email notification of these changes, (Stew Leonard’s) ignored the email and never changed the label or the nutrition fact panel and never properly updated the packaging,' the filing states.

Cookies United confirmed the claims in a press release, which the lawsuit states was taken off the company website.

'Stew Leonard’s claimed in an earlier press release that "The cookies contain peanuts, which was an ingredient not disclosed to Stew Leonard’s by the manufacturer,"' the statement read, per the lawsuit.

'Stew Leonard’s was notified by Cookies United in July of 2023 that this product now contains peanuts and all products shipped to them have been labeled accordingly. 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.'

Ms Baxendale was in Milford, Connecticut preparing for a role in a dance company's adaptation of Alice in Wonderland at a social gathering when she ate the cookies

The original label, which was from the old recipe, stated that there were soy nuts in the cookies. These are distinct and do not trigger a reaction in people allergic to peanuts.



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Shortly after Ms Baxendale's death, Stew Leonard's recalled the Vanilla Florentine cookies due to peanuts not being included on the ingredient list.

The recall applied to any of those particular cookies that were sold in Stew Leonard's Danbury and Newington, Connecticut, stores from November 6 through December 31, 2023.

The cookies Ms Baxendale ate had a best-buy date of January 5, 2024.

'Órla was truly one of a kind. She was a beautiful, radiant, brave soul who always believed she would achieve her biggest dreams - and that's exactly what she did. She danced her way across the world and lived life to the fullest every day,' a statement from the family said.

'We will never recover from the pain of having her taken from us so soon, in the prime of her life. But we are also so proud to call her our daughter and sister, and to have had the privilege of sharing 25 years with such an incredibly special person.

'It is incomprehensible that allergies can take lives in 2024, and we want to urge everyone to educate yourselves and those around you about anaphylaxis, how to use EpiPens and the early warning signs for severe allergic reactions.'

'It is incomprehensible that allergies can take lives in 2024, and we want to urge everyone to educate yourselves and those around you about anaphylaxis, how to use EpiPens and the early warning signs for severe allergic reactions,' Ms Baxendale's family said in a statement

The CDC estimates that one in three US adults has at least one allergy, and six percent of adults in children - nearly 20million people - have a food allergy.

About 2.5 percent of American children, or 1.8millon, are allergic to peanuts, and around 20 percent outgrow the allergy by adulthood.

While some individuals experience minor reactions, others can go into anaphylactic shock simply by coming into contact with tiny amounts of peanuts.

Anaphylactic shock, also called anapylaxis, can happen within seconds of coming into contact with an allergen like peanuts.

It causes the immune system to overreact and mistake the trigger for something harmful, leading to breathing difficulties, confusion, feeling lightheaded, and fast heart beat.

In Ms Baxendale's case, the lawsuit states that she experienced 'shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and swallowing, dizziness, wheezing, chest tightness, lightheadedness, increased heart rate, sudden weakness, feeling of doom and dread with accompanying terror' and cardiac arrest.

Medications like an EpiPen may be needed to stop the immune response, as well as oxygen and intravenous therapies.

Anaphylaxis results in roughly 500 to 1,000 deaths per year in the US.

What is anaphylactic shock?

Anaphylaxis, also known as anaphylactic shock, can kill within minutes.

It is a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction to a trigger, such as an allergy.

The reaction can often be triggered by certain foods, including peanuts and shellfish.

However, some medicines, bee stings, and even latex used in condoms can also cause the life-threatening reaction.

According to the Mayo Clinic, it occurs when the immune system overreacts to a trigger.

Symptoms include:feeling lightheaded or faint;breathing difficulties – such as fast, shallow breathing;wheezing;a fast heartbeat;clammy skin;confusion and anxiety andcollapsing or losing consciousness.

It is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment.

Insect stings are not dangerous for most victims, but a person does not necessarily have to have a pre-existing condition to be in danger.

An incremental build-up of stings can cause a person to develop an allergy, with a subsequent sting triggering theanaphylactic reaction.

How a cookie recipe tweak led to the death of NYC ballet dancer, 25 (2024)


How a cookie recipe tweak led to the death of NYC ballet dancer, 25? ›

Órla Baxendale, 25, died on January 11 from anaphylactic shock after eating Vanilla Florentine Cookies from Connecticut grocery chain Stew Leonard's that contained 'undeclared peanuts,' according to the lawsuit filed last week.

What dancer died from eating a cookie? ›

Órla Ruth Baxendale died on Jan. 11 from an anaphylactic shock after having an allergic reaction to a cookie containing "undeclared peanuts," according to the complaint filed May 23 in the Superior Court in Waterbury, Connecticut.

What is the cookie lawsuit with Stew Leonard? ›


-- Stew Leonard's is facing a wrongful death lawsuit from the estate of a woman with a peanut allergy who died after she ate a mislabeled cookie and suffered a severe reaction. Orla Ruth Baxendale, 25, died on Jan.

Which British ballet dancer died in the US after eating mislabeled cookie? ›

Órla Baxendale, 25, had a peanut allergy. She died on 11 January after going into anaphylactic shock caused by the mislabelled vanilla florentine cookie she ate. Baxendale, originally from east Lancashire, had moved to New York to pursue her career as a professional dancer.

What professional dancer died after eating mislabeled cookies? ›

New York Dancer Dies Following Allergic Reaction to Mislabeled Cookie. Órla Baxendale, 25, died on Jan. 11 due to anaphylactic shock resulting from a severe allergic reaction to a cookie manufactured by Cookies United and sold by the supermarket chain Stew Leonard's.

Who was the dancer who ate a cookie? ›

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.

How long was Stew Leonard in jail? ›

But Leonard Sr.'s success was tarnished by a prison sentence for tax fraud. He pleaded guilty in July 1993 to using a sophisticated computer program to skim $17.1 million off the store's books and served 44 months in prison.

What happened to Stew Leonard's son? ›

CEO Stew Leonard Jr. and his wife, Kim, lost their son, Stew "Stewie" Leonard III, to drowning at the age of 21 months in 1989. The couple created the foundation to fund swimming lessons to thousands of underprivileged children each year.

What is Stew Leonard's cookie milk? ›

Stew Leonard's Christmas Cookie Milk is sweet, creamy milk that has the same flavor as a sugar cookie that's been dunked in milk.

What dancer died from a peanut allergy? ›

Órla Baxendale, a 25-year-old dancer, died of anaphylactic shock on Jan. 11 after she ate Stew Leonard's vanilla Florentine cookies which she assumed, based on the label, were safe for her to consume despite her severe peanut allergy.

What dancer ate a peanut cookie? ›

A New York dancer with a severe peanut allergy has died from eating mislabeled cookies. HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A 25-year-old professional dancer from England who moved to New York City to pursue her career has died after eating a mislabeled cookie containing peanuts, part of a batch that has since been recalled.

What ballerinas have died from anorexia? ›

Heidi Noelle Guenther (January 11, 1975 – June 30, 1997) was an American ballerina from 1981 to her death in 1997. Guenther died from cardiac arrest which was believed to be caused by her eating disorder.

What professional dancer died at 25? ›

A 25-year-old professional dancer from the U.K. died earlier this month after eating mislabeled cookies purchased at a Connecticut Stew Leonard's supermarket. The woman, Órla Baxendale, had moved to New York City to pursue a career in dancing, her family's lawyers said in a statement, according to NBC New York.

Why are people allergic to peanuts? ›

Peanut allergy occurs when your immune system mistakenly identifies peanut proteins as something harmful. Direct or indirect contact with peanuts causes your immune system to release symptom-causing chemicals into your bloodstream.

Who was the dancer mislabeled cookies? ›

Young Dancer Dies After Eating Mislabeled Cookies From Stew Leonard's Grocery Store. "This is a heartbreaking tragedy that should never have happened." A 25-year-old professional dancer died after eating mislabeled cookies purchased from Stew Leonard's, a supermarket chain based in the Northeast.

What condition does Lizzy Dancer have? ›

Her parents wanted her to stay active and fit in with her peers, so they put her in a variety of sports– but it was dance that stuck. Lizzy also suffers from a medical condition, pseudotumor cerebri, that can lead to seizures and horrible headaches.

Is Isadora Duncan still alive? ›

Born San Francisco, May 26, 1877. Died September 14, 1927. Isadora Duncan was one of the great innovators in the history of dance. Her dance technique and choreography, the extraordinary events that marked her life, and her philosophy and writings on dance and life continue to fascinate dancers and historians.

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