In a heart-wrenching turn of events, the dance world mourns the untimely passing of 25-year-old professional dancer, Órla Baxendale. The vibrant talent met a devastating fate after consuming a seemingly harmless Vanilla Florentine cookie from the renowned Stew Leonard’s grocery store. This poignant story unravels the unfortunate incident that unfolded on January 11, leaving a community in shock and sorrow.

The journey of Órla Baxendale, a spirited UK native, had brought her to the bustling streets of New York City in pursuit of her dream. As a scholarship student at the prestigious Ailey School, she had become a rising star in the dance scene. Her performances during New York Fashion Week and contributions to dance productions at Lincoln Center had solidified her place as a promising artist.

Little did anyone foresee that a seemingly innocent treat would shatter her dreams and aspirations. Órla, like any young person, was indulging in a sweet moment at a social gathering in Connecticut when tragedy struck. The Vanilla Florentine cookie she consumed, manufactured by Cookies United and sold by Stew Leonard’s, contained undisclosed peanuts, setting off a severe allergic reaction that led to anaphylactic shock.

Attorney Marijo Adimey, in a heart-wrenching statement, revealed the gross negligence and reckless conduct of the manufacturer and/or sellers. It was a failure in proper disclosure that had led to this devastating yet entirely preventable outcome.

Stew Leonard’s, a popular supermarket chain, and Cookies United, the wholesaler, found themselves embroiled in a blame game. Stew Leonard’s claimed they were unaware of any ingredient changes in the cookie, blaming the Long Island bakery they sourced from for the oversight. On the contrary, Cookies United asserted that they had duly notified Stew Leonard’s about the change in ingredients back in July 2023. They claimed that the packaging was altered by Stew Leonard’s, which failed to properly label the cookies as peanut-containing before they hit the shelves.

The repercussions of this unfortunate incident were swift and significant. Stew Leonard’s promptly issued a recall for the Vanilla Florentine Cookies, available only in their Danbury and Newington stores, for the period between November 6 and December 31, 2023.

The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection Food, Standards and Product Safety Division (DCP) initiated an investigation in collaboration with officials from Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, and Stew Leonard’s. DCP Commissioner Bryan T. Cafferelli expressed his deep sorrow, vowing to unearth the truth behind this tragedy and prevent similar occurrences in the future.

Amidst the grief and loss, medical experts emphasize the importance of vigilance when dealing with food allergies. Punita Ponda, Northwell Health’s associate division chief for allergy and immunology, emphasized the need for individuals to diligently check labels, especially those with known food allergies. Carrying an EpiPen, she likened it to carrying a wallet and ID to ensure one’s safety in uncertain dining situations.

Órla Baxendale’s tragic fate serves as a stark reminder of the importance of transparency and accuracy in food labeling. In her memory, we must collectively strive to ensure that such heartbreaking incidents never happen again.

The dance world, and indeed the world at large, mourns the loss of a talented young artist whose future was cruelly snatched away by a mislabeled cookie.