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Subway’s Tuna Fish Sandwich is ‘Not Tuna and Not Fish,’ Lawsuit Claims

There’s something fishy (or not fishy) happening in the world of Subway — here’s the inside scoop.

Subway’s tuna sandwiches are actually made of a deceptive slurry of ingredients which are “bereft of tuna,” according to a new lawsuit the Washington Post recently reported on

The lawsuit, filed by customers Karen Dhanowa and Nilima Amin with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, claims Subway's tuna sandwich is “made from anything but tuna,” and is instead “a mixture of various concoctions that do not constitute tuna, yet have been blended together by defendants to imitate the appearance of tuna.” 

Multiple lab samples of the filling allegedly found no trace of tuna or any type of fish at all. Notably, the filing makes no mention of what the product actually contains and provides zero scientific evidence or details of the alleged lab samples. 

If certified as a class-action, the current suit could potentially represent thousands of Subway customers who bought tuna sandwiches or wraps after January 21, 2017 in California, which is home to 2,266 locations. 

Subway is the largest fast-food company in the world by store count and all locations are franchise-owned, so if the claim does turn out to be true, it could have massive implications for the franchising world.

How Could This Impact Subway Franchisees?

The tuna lawsuit comes at an especially rough time for Subway, which is struggling to recover from the pandemic as well as years of store closures brought about by " target="_blank" rel="nofollowdeclining sales and shrinking profits from franchisees. The chain has closed more than 4,000 locations in the past three years.

This could be why, in a statement emailed to 1851 Franchise, Subway spokeswoman Maggie Truax made a point to specifically defend the chain's franchisees in response to the lawsuit.

"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,” said Truax. “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.”

Subway told NBC News in a statement it "delivers 100% cooked tuna to its restaurants, which is mixed with mayonnaise and used in freshly made sandwiches, wraps." 

At the core of this lawsuit, Dhanowa and Amin are suing Subway for fraud, claiming Subway is “saving substantial sums of money in manufacturing the products because the fabricated ingredient they use in the place of tuna costs less money.” 

Subway claims the tuna in their sandwiches is wild-caught, and the company's website describes it as "flaked," which means it's essentially the same thing customers would find in a can of tuna at the grocery store. 

Previous Subway Lawsuits

In 2017, an appeals court threw out a class-action settlement over claims the chain's "footlong subs" were actually only 11 inches. Last year, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that the sugar content in Subway’s bread meant the product could not legally be considered bread. 

In response to disagreements over sourcing ingredients in the past, some Subway franchise owners attempted to switch suppliers only to have their franchise license revoked. Over the years, franchisees have sued the company claiming Subway’s business model and inspection process damaged their business. In the past, Subway has received negative feedback from franchisees over the brand’s razor-thin profit margins.

In December, a class action lawsuit filed in Quebec alleged Subway misrepresented the quality of its chicken, which a 2017 CBC report found to be only 53.6% chicken. That same year, Subway decided to fight back, filing a lawsuit of its own against the CBC, arguing the public broadcaster defamed the chain in its report. The Ontario Superior Court originally dismissed Subway’s lawsuit, but just last week reversed that decision and said Subway’s $210 million defamation case qualifies for a thorough hearing.

Subway is hardly the only QSR chain to come under questioning for what they’re putting (or not putting) in their food. For example, in 2011 Taco Bell faced a lawsuit saying the meat in its tacos was only 35% beef. 

Tuna or Red Herring?

So, will we ever find out if Subway’s tuna is actually tuna? Probably not. Most class action lawsuits end up being settled to avoid the expenses and headache of moving forward with a trial. This is something attorneys are aware of and often exploit. 

“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,” Truax said.

1851 Franchise will update this post with any new information.