Stew Leonard’s recalls cookies after woman, 25, dies from eating product that ‘contained undeclared peanuts’

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Health officials in the Northeast are warning the public about cookies sold by Stew Leonard’s that “contained undeclared peanuts,” after lawyers say a 25-year-old woman who ate one of them died from a “severe allergic reaction.” 

The regional supermarket chain, known for its distinctive stores and animatronics and operates seven locations in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, has now issued a recall of its Vanilla Florentine Cookies following the Jan. 11 death of New York resident Orla Baxendale. 

“Órla, a talented dancer, was just 25 years old when her life was cut short due to anaphylactic shock resulting from a severe allergic reaction,” the law firm Gair, Gair, Conason, Rubinowitz, Bloom, Hershenhorn, Steigman & Mackauf said in a statement.   

“Órla’s passing stemmed from an unfortunate incident involving the consumption of a cookie manufactured by Cookies United and sold by Stew Leonard’s, which contained undisclosed peanuts,” it added. “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.” 

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The Connecticut Department of Public Health says the cookies affected by the recall were sold in Stew Leonard’s Danbury and Newington locations between Nov. 6 and Dec. 31 last year and had a best-by date of Jan. 5. The woman who died, they said, reportedly “consumed the cookies” at a social gathering in the state. 

“Consumers with a nut allergy should immediately dispose of the cookies or return them to the point of sale and seek medical attention if necessary,” the department said. 

Connecticut health officials and their counterparts in New York and New Jersey are now working with the FDA and Stew Leonard’s to investigate the incident.  

Stew Leonard’s said customers “with nut allergies should bring back the product to customer service for a full refund.” 

In a video posted Wednesday, Stew Leonard Jr., the chain’s president and CEO, said his company’s chief safety officer was never informed of a recipe change in the cookies. 

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Vanilla Florentine Cookies recall

“It’s a sad day for us,” he said, noting that the company had bought the cookies “from an outside supplier and 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 peanuts,” Leonard added. “And our chief safety officer never was notified, we didn’t change the label, hence we sold about 500 packages of these cookies over the holiday.” 

But the Islip, New York-based Cookies United says they did inform Stew Leonard’s about the ingredient change. 

“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,” the company’s attorney, Walker Flanary III, said in a statement.  

“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,” he continued. “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.” 

Stew Leonard's store in New Jersey

         

When asked by FOX Business on Thursday to respond to the claim that Cookie United informed them of the ingredient change, a Stew Leonard’s spokesperson declined to comment further.

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