Lawsuit Alleges Subway's Tuna Salad Doesn't Contain Any Actual Tuna

The sandwich chain denies the plaintiffs' claims.

Connecticut-based sandwich chain Subway is facing yet another lawsuit over its ingredients, one alleging that the tuna salad used in its sandwiches and wraps doesn't contain any actual tuna.

According to the Washington Post, the lawsuit claims that Subway's tuna is "made from anything but tuna." An attorney representing one of the two plaintiffs says that samples of the fish were collected from sandwiches purchased at multiple Subway locations in California and submitted for independent laboratory testing.

The attorney declined to discuss the exact results of the tests with the Post, beyond saying that it was "not tuna" and "not fish." The legal filing alleges that the sandwich topping is "a mixture of various concoctions that do not constitute tuna, yet have been blended together by defendants to imitate the appearance of tuna."

The plaintiffs, identified as Karen Dhanowa and Nilima Amin, are suing Subway for fraud, intentional misrepresentation, and unjust enrichment. "Defendants have engaged in economic adulteration by selling a food product that partially or wholly lacked the valuable constituents of tuna, and that had been substituted in part or whole," their lawsuit reads. "Defendants have further committed unlawful adulteration by concealing the inferiority of the Products."

Subway has denied the claim, telling Food & Wine, "There simply is no truth to the allegations in the complaint that was filed in California. 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. The taste and quality of our tuna make it one of Subway's most popular products and 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. Given the facts, the lawsuit constitutes a reckless and improper attack on Subway's brand and goodwill, and on the livelihood of its California franchisees. Indeed, there is no basis in law or fact for the plaintiffs' claims, which are frivolous and are being pursued without adequate investigation."

This isn't the first time that the composition of Subway's meats has been challenged. In 2017, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's (CBC) Marketplace program DNA-tested pieces of chicken taken from five different fast food restaurants. When the results came back, Subway's oven roasted chicken contained 53.6 percent chicken DNA, and its chicken strips were only 42.8 percent chicken. (The samples from the other four restaurants contained between 88.5 and 89.4 percent chicken DNA.)

Subway called the CBC's findings "absolutely false and misleading" and filed a $210 million defamation lawsuit against the broadcaster. In November 2019, an Ontario Superior Court justice sided with the CBC, ruling that the Marketplace findings were an example of investigative journalism, and dismissed Subway's lawsuit. Last February, the same judge ordered Subway to pay the CBC $500,000 ($390,590 USD) in legal costs, as well as an additional $178,000 ($139,050 USD) in fees and disbursements.

Last fall, Ireland's Supreme Court ruled that Subway's bread contains too much sugar for it to legally be called "bread"—at least when it comes to Ireland's tax laws. (That case was complicated, and actually started out as a franchise owner arguing that he shouldn't have to pay value-added tax for Subway sandwiches that customers bought to-go.)

As for the current tuna lawsuit, Subway's statement to Food & Wine continued, "Unfortunately, this lawsuit is part of a trend in which the named plaintiffs' attorneys have been targeting the food industry in an effort to make a name for themselves in that space. Subway will vigorously defend itself against these and any other baseless efforts to mischaracterize and tarnish the high-quality products that Subway and its franchisees provide to their customers, in California and around the world, and intends to fight these claims through all available avenues if they are not immediately dismissed."

Update 3:28 p.m.: This article has been edited to include further comments from Subway.

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