Parents of kids with severe food allergies have an added anxiety level to their parenting; the contents of a snack or meal can often be the difference between life or death for their precious child. For one family, the Staffords, the nightmare of an accidental snack choice leading to their child’s death came true last month. Alexi Ryann Stafford, just 15 years old, had a severe peanut allergy. She died after eating a Chips Ahoy cookie at a friend’s house. The cookie package was almost identical to one she knew as “safe” and nut-free.
In a now-viral Facebook post, Kelli Travers-Stafford explains how her daughter’s peanut allergy took her life.
Photo: Alexi Ryann Stafford, GoFundMe
Stafford’s Facebook post reads:
Our hearts are broken and we are still in shock. Our whole lives we dedicated to keeping our child safe from one ingredient, peanuts.
On Monday June 25, our 15 year old daughter, Alexi Ryann Stafford, while at a friends house, made a fatal choice. There was an open package of Chips Ahoy cookies, the top flap of the package was pulled back and the packaging was too similar to what we had previously deemed “safe” to her. She ate one cookie of chewy Chips Ahoy thinking it was safe because of the “red” packaging, only to find out too late that there was an added ingredient…. Reese peanut butter cups/chips. She started feeling tingling in her mouth and came straight home. Her condition rapidly deteriorated. She went into Anaphylactic shock, stopped breathing and went unconscious. We administered 2 epi pens while she was conscious and waited on paramedics for what felt like an eternity.
She died within 1& 1/2 hour of eating the cookie.
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. 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. I want to share our story with everyone because we want to spread awareness. The company has different colored packaging to indicate chunky, chewy, or regular but NO screaming warnings about such a fatal ingredient to many people. Especially children.
It’s important to us to spread awareness so that this horrible mistake doesn’t happen again.
Photo: Kelli Travers-Stafford/Facebook
Alexi’s mom included the above photo in her Facebook post. The package on top is like the one Alexi took the fatal cookie, the package below is the one she knew as “safe’—what she thought she eating. As Stafford said in her Facebook post, the packaging was folded back to allow access to the plastic cookie tray, and the fact that the cookies contained peanuts was hidden. Alexi didn’t realize her mistake until it was too late. Despite the fact that she was well-trained and well-versed on what was safe and what wasn’t, she still made a fatal mistake. Accidents happen, even to the most careful.
As Kelli Stafford’s post about Alexi’s death went viral, the inevitable “allergy backlash” hit, blaming the victim. I find this rather unnecessary as Stafford is not filing a lawsuit or even claiming that the company is at fault…she is simply asking that packaging be more clear. How hard would it be, after all, for cookie manufacturers to make all packages with peanuts a certain color, for instance?
In an article about Alexi’s peanut allergy death on Medium, allergy activist Lisa Broer makes some excellent points.
The manufacturer had complied with all legal requirements. The grieving mother posted without suggesting a lawsuit. Obviously her daughter had made a fatal mistake. Yet many people do open this product by folding back the package end. Is it reasonable to ask for a package redesign in a treat marketed to children?
Chips Ahoy’s standard response to all Facebook comments and to Broer’s own letter about this particular peanut allergy death is this (literally. Same response so all inquiries):
We take allergies very seriously and all of our products are clearly labeled on the information panel of the packaging for the major food allergens in the U.S. (milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans).
Across our Chips Ahoy! product portfolio, packaging color is indicative of product texture (i.e., Chewy, Chunky, Original) and is not indicative of the presence of allergens.
Thought not unexpected, the company’s response rubbed Broer the wrong way. Yes, they did follow the law, but her problems with the statement go beyond that. Broer says:
I had hoped for a more satisfying response, perhaps a promise to relay this input about package design to the appropriate team for further review. The death of a customer ought to be significant enough to review policy level decisions, especially in a product whose target consumers are children.
The insinuation that cookie texture is more important than product safety looks ill-chosen to my eyes; it is not pleasant to contemplate how that appears to the parent of a child who has a peanut allergy.
Though I do not hold Chips Ahoy! responsible for Alexi’s death, I do believe that a better packaging policy could have saved her life. If all cookie and snack bar companies color-coded their packages not for texture, as Chips Ahoy! does, but rather for ingredients, Alexi Stafford would probably still be alive. How about purple packages for peanut products? It doesn’t seem like too much to ask for me.
If you love someone with a peanut allergy, share this post to raise awareness.
Kelli Stafford wrote her post to raise awareness; her daughter thought all red packages of this brand of cookie were safe, and she was very tragically wrong. If you love someone with a peanut allergy, please share this post to make them aware that what they know as “safe” still always needs to be double-checked.
Thank you Kelli, for sharing your daughter with us. I’m praying for your family as you grieve your unimaginable loss.