July 18, 2022 – The sandwich chain Subway is no stranger to scandals. In 2013, Subway settled a claim that alleged its footlong subs were shorter than advertised. Then, in 2014, it endured a scandal over a "yoga mat" chemical found in its bread. Now, the world’s largest sandwich chain is facing another controversy: whether the tuna fish it uses is truly 100% tuna.
This month, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar rejected Subway’s request to dismiss a lawsuit over the franchise chain’s tuna products, ruling Nilima Amin of Alameda County, CA, may continue the suit she filed in January 2021.
The original complaint said Subway tuna products were misbranded under federal and California laws, leading customers to pay more for “premium priced food dishes” and to believe they are consuming “only tuna and no other fish species, animal products, or miscellaneous products.”
“Subway misrepresents its products as ‘100% tuna,’” the renewed 2022 case reads. “[Consumers] were tricked into buying food items that wholly lacked the ingredient they reasonably thought they were purchasing.”
Subway: ‘We Are Disappointed’
The court dismissed parts of the plaintiff's claim, including the allegation that Subway deceived customers by selling sandwiches that were not 100% tuna.
“Consumers understand that tuna salad is usually mixed with mayonnaise, and that a tuna sandwich will contain bread,” the judge’s ruling argued.
But he did not dismiss the overstated tuna claims.
Subway pushed back, insisting that any non-tuna DNA found is the result of contact between other ingredients used to make tuna sandwiches and wraps.
“Subway serves 100% tuna,” a Subway spokesperson told Today. “We are disappointed the Court felt it couldn’t dismiss the plaintiffs’ reckless and improper lawsuit at this stage. However, we are confident that Subway will prevail when the Court has an opportunity to consider all the evidence.”
A Fishy Investigation
Previously, the plaintiff presented a marine biologist’s analysis of 20 tuna samples from 20 Subway locations that found “no detectable tuna DNA sequences whatsoever” in all but one. What’s more, an investigation by The New York Times concluded “no amplifiable tuna DNA” was present in its lab-tested samples.
The lab commissioned by the Times offered two solutions for the negative results.
“One, it’s so heavily processed that whatever we could pull out, we couldn’t make an identification. Or we got some and there’s just nothing there that’s tuna,” a lab spokesperson told the newspaper.
But whenInside Edition sent samples to a lab, the results were in the sandwich chain’s favor: The Subway tuna was, in fact, tuna. Subway cites Inside Edition’s “more accurate” lab testing process via Applied Food Technologies in defense of one of its most popular offerings.
“Applied Food Technologies is one of the only labs in the country with the ability to test broken-down fish DNA, which makes it more accurate in testing processed tuna,” Subway explained on its website. “AFT conducted more than 50 individual tests on 150 pounds of Subway’s tuna for Inside Edition and confirmed yellowfin and/or skipjack tuna in every sample.”
As the case continues, Subway has launched an advertising campaign defending its tuna subs as “100% real.”