Subway was sued over claims it mislabeled its tuna as tuna. The New York Times tried to get to the bottom of the mystery.

·2 min read
A tuna sandwich with lettuce and tomato on Subway wrapper paper.
A tuna sandwich from the fast-food chain Subway. Jörg Carstensen/Getty Images
  • After a lawsuit alleged Subway tuna wasn't actually tuna, The New York Times did its own analysis.

  • The newspaper used a commercial lab to analyze tuna samples bought in Los Angeles.

  • The sandwich chain has dismissed claims about its tuna and has called the lawsuit meritless.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Earlier this year, Subway got hit with a lawsuit alleging its tuna was not actually tuna.

The country's biggest sandwich chain called the lawsuit meritless and maintains it buys only skipjack and yellowfin tuna from fisheries with stocks that aren't overfished.

Seeking to get to the bottom of the mystery, The New York Times on Sunday published a report with results of a commercial lab analysis of "60 inches' worth of Subway tuna sandwiches" purchased from three locations in Los Angeles. The tuna meat was removed, frozen, and shipped for testing.

The results, per an email sent to The Times: "No amplifiable tuna DNA was present in the sample and so we obtained no amplification products from the DNA. Therefore, we cannot identify the species."

A representative for the lab told The Times that the results pointed to two possible scenarios. "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."

Tuna experts also emphasized to The Times that once fish like tuna had been cooked, its protein would become broken down, or denatured, making it difficult to identify.

The newspaper also notes that it's not the first to try to uncover whether Subway's popular tuna sandwich does indeed contain all tuna. "Inside Edition" did its own investigation in New York and found the tuna purchased in the sandwiches was in fact tuna.

Subway, however, continues to fight a class-action complaint filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California alleging it makes false claims about its tuna meat.

The lawsuit alleges "independent testing repeatedly affirmed" Subway made the tuna product with no tuna fish, but it did not name the agencies that conducted such tests. The suit also claims Subway profits off mislabeling the tuna products by using cheaper ingredients.

Subway has dismissed the claims as baseless.

"These claims are meritless," a Subway representative said in a statement to Insider in January. "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 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," the statement added.

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