Subway says their popular tuna salad contains tuna, mayonnaise, eggs, soybean oil, vinegar, water, salt, sugar, spice, lemon juice and calcium disodium EDTA (“added to protect flavor”). According to two plaintiffs who recently filed a lawsuit against the sandwich chain, the Subway tuna salad is actually “a mixture of various concoctions that do not constitute tuna,” and that the contents have been blended together to make something that looks and smells and tastes like tuna.
What’s happening here?
According to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Subways’s tuna is “made from anything but tuna.” The suit states that samples of the sandwich were lab tested and the results came back: no fish. The lawsuit does not state what the “tuna” ingredients actually are.
“We found that the ingredients were not tuna and not fish,” one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs told The Washington Post. The attorneys are hoping to expand their suit beyond their two plaintiffs and have their claim certified as a class-action lawsuit. If it becomes a class-action suit, it could include thousands of Subway customers in California who bought Subway tuna sandwiches and wraps after January 21, 2017.
If the plaintiffs’s stance is correct and tuna is not the predominant ingredient in the Subway tuna, there is a possibility that Subway had no idea. “Often when we see deception with seafood, it is the result of food fraud originating with the original seller or wholesaler,” Stephanie Smith, a statewide consumer food safety specialist and assistant professor at Washington State University, tells Yahoo Life. “In some cases, a less expensive seafood is sold to a retail operation as a more highly valued type of seafood. This fraud is based on financial gain and doesn’t necessarily result in any food safety issues. However, both the retailer and consumer can be duped into believing they are buying something they are not.”
Smith adds that if the “tuna” at Subway is actually a less expensive fish, “the concerns would lie mostly with consumers being unknowingly exposed to allergens.” But, “if the substitution is made with a non-food item, then there may be a greater potential for health hazards.”
Subway vehemently denies the accusations and a spokesperson for the company tells Yahoo Life that the suit “is part of a trend in which the named plaintiffs’s attorneys have been targeting the food industry in an effort to make a name for themselves in that space.” Sholini Dogra, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, has previously sued Ferrara Candy Co., Nestle, Costco and Tootsie Roll Industries.
With respect to the tuna in question, the spokesperson says, “Subway delivers 100 percent cooked tuna to its restaurants, which is mixed with mayonnaise and used in freshly made sandwiches, wraps and salads that are served to and enjoyed by our guests.” Adding, “these baseless accusations threaten to damage our franchisees, small business owners who work tirelessly to uphold the high standards that Subway sets for all of its products, including its tuna.”
All that said, this is not the first time that Subway’s food has come under scrutiny. In 2017, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Marketplace program DNA-tested pieces of Subway chicken. The results showed that Subway’s oven-roasted chicken was only 42.8 percent chicken. Subway rejected those claims.
Relatedly, in 2020 Ireland’s Supreme Court ruled that Subway’s bread had too much sugar in it to meet the country’s legal definition of bread.
The California lawsuit says that Subway is making false and misleading claims about their product in order to increase their profits. “The Products lack any trace of tuna as a component,” the suit claims. “The filling in the Products has no scintilla of tuna at all.”