Subway has been defending its tuna for years, but the latest report still failed to put claims to rest. Take a look at the years-long issue plaguing the chain.

Subway tuna sandwich
Subway tuna sandwich.

  • The NYT published a report stating that it found no tuna DNA in Subway tuna sandwiches.
  • Subway called the method unreliable and maintains that it serves 100% tuna.
  • Subway has publicly defended its tuna sourcing for years.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The first Subway opened in 1965 as Pete’s Sandwich Shop. It didn’t officially become Subway until 1968.

1st SUBWAY Store   Pete's Subs

Source: Subway

Tuna wasn’t on the first menu, but it’s been around for decades. “Our popular tuna sandwich, made from 100% wild caught tuna mixed with mayo, has been a staple of our menu for years,” the chain told Insider.

peter buck subway

In 2011, Subway surpassed McDonald’s as the world’s largest restaurant chain.

subway

Source: WSJ

Nonprofit group Oceana conducted a two-year study on fish sales and mislabeling, and found that 59% of US tuna was mislabeled and contained other fish. The findings were released in 2013 and picked up in the media.

tuna
A sushi chef serves sushi of high-quality fatty Atlantic bluefin tuna or “o-toro sushi nigiri” at a sushi restaurant in Tokyo.

Source: Oce ana

In 2016, Subway joined International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF), a nonprofit dedicated to developing sustainable fisheries and supply chains.

tuna
Workers load frozen tuna into a basket before selling the tuna at Muara Baru fish market in Jakarta, Indonesia

Source: QSR

At the time, Subway said that it “only serves its customers with skipjack tuna, sourced from fisheries with non-threatened stock levels.”

whole tuna fish fish market
Tuna at fish market.

In 2019, Subway emphasized tuna with a new tuna collection, including a tuna melt and BLT through a partnership with Tastemade.

Subway Tastemade tuna sandwich collab
Subway introduced two new tuna sandwiches in 2019.

Source: Fast Company

In January 2021, a California lawsuit alleged that Subway profited by mislabeling a tuna product that contained no actual tuna.

subway

Source: Insider

“The products are made from a mixture of various concoctions that do not constitute tuna, yet have been blended together by Defendants to imitate the appearance of tuna,” the suit said.

Giant tuna

Source: Insider

“Tuna is one of our most popular sandwiches. Our restaurants receive 100% wild-caught tuna, mix it with mayonnaise and serve on a freshly made sandwich to our guests,” Subway said, calling the claims “meritless.”

subway

Source: Insider

In February, Inside Edition had samples from tuna sandwiches in Queens tested, and found that they were in fact tuna.

 

The mislabeling allegations didn’t stop Subway’s embrace of tuna. The chain introduced a new tuna melt with onions and provolone in May of this year.

Subway tuna melt
Subway introduced new melts.

Source: QSR

In June, the plaintiffs from the suit amended their claims. They are no longer questioning whether Subway serves tuna, but whether it is actually “100% sustainably caught skipjack and yellowfin tuna.”

fishing
A woman sorts through fresh fish on the dock after it was unloaded from a boat in Muara Angke port in north Jakarta.

Source: NYT

Then in June, the New York Times published its own report after sending out multiple tuna sandwiches for lab testing.

amazon test lab
Amazon is building its own COVID-19 testing lab.

Source: Insider

“No amplifiable tuna DNA was present in the sample and so we obtained no amplification products from the DNA,” the lab told The Times. “Therefore, we cannot identify the species.”

Tuna cans

Source: NYT

A spokesperson from the lab offered possible explanations: “One, it’s so heavily processed that whatever we could pull out, we couldn’t make an identification,” the person said. “Or we got some and there’s just nothing there that’s tuna.”

lab
Senior Criminalist Michelle Halsing works on mitochondrial DNA testing at the State of California Department of Justice Jan Bashinski DNA Laboratory

Source: NYT

Tuna experts also say that the cooking process could break down the tuna protein, making it difficult to identify in a lab.

Tuna tartare
Tuna tartare at Flora Bar

Subway shot back with a statement calling the DNA testing carried out by The Times “an unreliable methodology for identifying processed tuna … DNA testing is simply not a reliable way to identify denatured proteins, like Subway’s tuna, which was cooked before it was tested.”

Subway

Source:Insider

Subway says tuna remains one of its most popular sandwich fillings.

Subway tuna salad sub
Subway’s tuna is under fire.

Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.

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