Stew Leonard's cookie death victim was an accomplished dancer with 'boundless love'

Órla Baxendale, 25, was a dancer who moved to New York from the United Kingdom to pursue her dreams. Her family is now living a nightmare after she died earlier this month. 

Baxendale had a severe peanut allergy and ate Florentine cookies from a Stew Leonard’s store in Connecticut. Her family said they were mislabeled, and the grocery store chain has now issued a recall.

"Stew Leonard’s is working with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection and the supplier to determine the cause of the labeling error," the grocery store said in a statement. "Customers who have purchased these cookies should bring back the product to Stew Leonard’s customer service for a full refund."

Who was Órla Baxendale?

Born in 1998, Baxendale was born and raised in Manchester, U.K., and learned Irish dancing at a young age, according to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a prestigious dance company based in NYC.

She was "known for her quirky character and boundless love" and was "a source of joy and inspiration to everyone," according to an obituary posted to Ever Loved.

In 2018, Baxendale moved to New York City on a scholarship from The Ailey School, "where she worked with various choreographers including Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘A’ choreographed by Brice Mousset for The Ailey School January Explosion concert."

She's performed in NY Fashion Week and was a cast member of English With An Accent, a production showcased at Lincoln Center.



Cookies recalled after death: ‘Not much has changed in the labeling laws’

"Preliminary investigation has revealed that Órla’s death occurred due to the gross negligence and reckless conduct of the manufacturer and/or sellers who failed to properly identify the contents of the cookie on the packaging," a post on a law firm representing her interests read.

Long Islander Georgina Cornago said Órla Baxendale's death was a loss that could’ve been prevented. Her son, Giovanni, died after an allergic reaction when he was 14.


New Yorker with peanut allergy dies after eating mislabeled Stew Leonard's cookie; recall issued

Following the peanut allergy death of a New York 20-year-old, Stew Leonard’s issued a recall for mislabeled cookies sold at Connecticut grocery stores.

"Here we are, 10 years after Giovanni passed away, and not much has changed in the labeling laws, and that’s unbelievable to me," Cornago said.

Long Island wholesaler Cookies United sold the mislabeled cookies in bulk to Stew Leonard's this holiday season.

An email from Cookies United was sent to Stew Leonard’s back in July after the recipe for the cookies had a change of ingredients and contained peanuts.

While they changed their labels, the product was sold under the Stew Leonard’s brand and repackaged.

"Our chief safety officer here at Stew Leonard’s was never notified, and we didn’t change the label. We sold about 500 packages of these cookies over the holiday," Stew Leonard’s said in a video statement.

A spokesperson for Cookies United said they’ve been informed by the New York State Department of Agriculture that they are in compliance with all applicable rules and regulations relating to the product. He adds the incorrect label was created by, and applied to, their product by Stew Leonard’s.

Georgina Cornago's son, Giovanni, died after an allergic reaction when he was 14.

Cookies United and Stew Leonard’s released statements sending their deepest sympathies. As for Georgina, her heart breaks for the family.

"It’s just horrible," she said. "No parent should have to lose their child."

Department of Consumer Protection Food Investigators are working with health departments, Stew Leonard's and officials in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to get to the bottom of how this happened and what can be done to prevent a similar tragedy from happening in the future.