A New York woman has tragically died after eating improperly labeled cookies that contained undeclared peanuts. The cookies were sold by Stew Leonard’s stores in Danbury and Newington, Conn., …
A New York woman has tragically died after eating improperly labeled cookies that contained undeclared peanuts. The cookies were sold by Stew Leonard’s stores in Danbury and Newington, Conn., and were produced by the wholesaler Cookies United, located in Islip.
Twenty-five-year-old Órla Baxendale was born in the U.K. and moved to New York six years ago as a scholarship student at the Alvin Ailey School of Dance. The professional dancer’s life was cut short due to anaphylactic shock resulting from a severe allergic reaction to the improperly labeled cookies, purchased from Stew Leonard’s.
According to the attorneys of the victim’s family, Howard Hershenhorn and Marijo Adimey, Baxendale always made sure to carry an EpiPen and thoroughly checked the ingredients on the packaging of food she ate due to her peanut allergy.
“When this tragic and preventable incident occurred and after she began to have an anaphylactic reaction, an EpiPen was used, but due to the severity of her allergy, it was not effective,” said Hershenhorn and Adimey in a statement. “This is why it is imperative that the public be able to rely upon the accuracy of all food labeling, so that tragic events like these can be avoided.”
This tragic oversight has led to the recall of the seasonal Vanilla Florentine Cookies from Stew Leonard’s stores in Danbury and Newington, Conn., for the period of Nov. 6 to Dec. 31, 2023.
In the midst of the tragedy, Stew Leonard’s and Cookies Unlimited have both released contradictory press releases to their respective websites, faulting one another for the labeling error:
While Stew Leonard’s and Cookies United play the blame game, attorneys of the victim’s family have shamed president and CEO Stew Leonard Jr. for his approach to addressing the tragedy.
“We are shocked and appalled that Stew Leonard is engaging in a public relations campaign in which he proclaims his innocence, while blaming the cookie manufacturer and taking absolutely no responsibility whatsoever for his company’s gross negligence and willful conduct,” the attorneys stated. “Instead of standing up and taking full responsibility as the public would have expected them to, as the family of Órla would have expected him to, Stew Leonard’s is engaging in a public relations media campaign and promoting their own self-interests.”
Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection investigators are working with state and local public health officials in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, the Food and Drug Administration, and Stew Leonard’s to determine the cause of the error, as well as if any other products were affected and sold to other stores.
Jan. 23, 2024 - Response to Stew Leonard’s Press Release
“It has come to the attention of Cookies United that a customer of Stew Leonard’s has tragically died as a result of eating cookies containing peanuts. Our hearts and condolences are first with the family of this Stew Leonard’s customer. 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.” [bold is ours] Unfortunately, considering the tragedy of these circumstances, we need to point out that 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.”
Jan. 24, 2024 - Response to Stew Leonard’s Press Release - Update
“Further to Cookies United’s press release from Jan. 23, 2024, and the accusation from Stew Leonard’s that the peanut ingredient was not disclosed to them, attached is the communication from July 20, 2023 sent to 11 Stew Leonard’s employees (whose redacted emails are listed below). Eleven redacted emails were listed here in the press release.
Additionally, attached please find an image of the label that Cookies United has used in all shipments to Stew Leonard’s since July 20, 2023 (correctly calling out the ingredients list, including peanuts). We are fully cooperating with the authorities regarding this heartbreaking event. This is a tragedy that should have never happened and our sympathy is with the family of this Stew Leonard’s customer.”
Attached to the press release is a PDF of an email dated July 11, 2023, notifying Stew Leonard’s of the peanuts ingredient. The email includes an updated ingredients list/nutrition facts label with the words “Label on every case produced and delivered.”
Jan. 23, 2024 - Stew Leonard’s & FDA Recall Vanilla Florentine Cookies
(This press release has since been deleted from the Stew Leonard’s Website)
Stew Leonard’s, in partnership with the Food and Drug Administration, is recalling Vanilla Florentine Cookies that were sold only at Stew Leonard’s in Danbury and Newington, Conn., from Nov. 6 – Dec. 31, 2023. The cookies contain peanuts. Customers with nut allergies should bring back the product to customer service for a full refund.
Jan. 24, 2024 - Statement from Stew Leonard Jr:
(transcribed from video)
“...It is a sad day for us. We learned a customer passed who had a peanut allergy that bought a cookie here at Stew Leonard’s in either Danbury or Newington. It was a holiday cookie, it was a one-shot deal, but we bought it from an outside supplier. Unfortunately, the supplier changed the recipe and started going from soy nuts to peanuts, and our chief safety officer here at Stew Leonard’s was never notified. We have a very rigorous process that we use as far as labeling. We take labels very seriously, especially with peanuts. And our chief safety officer never was notified, we did not change the label; hence, we sold about 500 packages of these cookies over the holidays.
Unfortunately, this one customer purchased them and had a fatal experience from it. We are here with our family, and we are all just devastated and very sad. I have four daughters and one of them is in her 20s, I could imagine how that family feels right now. And we are all just very, very, sad about this whole thing. And I want to assure you that the food you buy at Stew Leonard’s is safe, the cookies you buy at Stew Leonard’s is safe, and everything is labeled properly here at Stew Leonard’s.”