The mother of a teen girl who died of a severe reaction to her peanut allergy after accidentally eating a cookie containing peanut butter is warning others to be vigilant about food packaging and labels.
The family blames a folded-back cookie box wrapper for hiding the presence of the ingredient, leading to a “horrible mistake.”
“Our hearts are broken and we are still in shock. Our whole lives [were] dedicated to keeping our child safe from one ingredient, peanuts,” Kellie Travers-Stafford, who lives in Weston, Florida, wrote on Facebook last week.
Alexi Ryann Stafford, 15, was at a friend’s house on June 25 when she “made a fatal choice” and took a cookie from an open package of Chips Ahoy! Cookies that had a red wrapping and looked similar to the type of cookies her parents had deemed safe for her, her mother wrote.
But the box, which had the top flap pulled back, actually contained a version of the cookies with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.
“A small added indication on the pulled back flap on a familiar red package wasn’t enough to call out to her that there was ‘peanut product’ in the cookies before it was too late,” Travers-Stafford wrote.
Alexi went home, but her condition deteriorated rapidly. She went into anaphylactic shock — a severe allergic reaction — and stopped breathing, her mother wrote. The family administered two EpiPens, to no avail. The girl died within an hour and a half of eating the cookie. She was laid to rest earlier this month.
A fundraising page set up for funeral costs called Alexi “a kind, old soul” who was excited for the future ahead of her.
The family did not immediately respond to a TODAY request for comment and requested privacy when NBC 6 South Florida reached out for an interview. But in her Facebook post, Alexi's mother called for more prominent food labels.
“The company has different colored packaging to indicate chunky, chewy, or regular [cookies] but NO screaming warnings about such a fatal ingredient to many people. Especially children,” she wrote.
“As a mother who diligently taught her the ropes of what was okay to ingest and what was not, I feel lost and angry because she knew her limits and was aware of familiar packaging, she knew what ‘safe’ was.”
When people began commenting about the incident on the official Facebook page of Chips Ahoy! Cookies, which are made by Nabisco, the company responded that it takes allergies very seriously and noted that all of its products are clearly labeled on the information panel of the packaging for major food allergens, including peanuts.
"We were very saddened to hear about this situation," Nabisco's parent company Mondelez International said in a statement. "We always encourage consumers to read the packaging labeling when purchasing and consuming any of our products for information about product ingredients, including presence of allergens."
The company pointed out that the packaging for Chips Ahoy! made with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups “prominently indicates, on both the front and side panels, the presence of peanut butter cups through both words and visuals.”
While packaging color for the cookies indicates their texture, such as chewy or chunky, it’s not indicative of the presence of allergens, it added. In response, several commenters called on the company to change package colors so that cookies with peanut products would stand out.
About 8 percent of children have a food allergy, with peanuts the most prevalent allergen, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Almost 40 percent of food allergic children have a history of severe reactions.
The incident is an important reminder for people with food allergies to be overly careful, Dr. Adriana Bonansea-Frances, a physician at the Florida Center For Allergy & Asthma Care, told NBC 6 South Florida.
"If you are in a different house, you have to be more careful and always ask and always look at the labels," she said.
Always read and reread ingredients on packages every time because it’s easy to make an error and brands may change ingredients, Allergic Living magazine noted.