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Subway defends tuna salad as containing real tuna

Lawsuit over Subway's tuna sandwiches
Subway disputes lawsuit's claims about its tuna sandwiches 00:41

Subway isn't waiting for a judge to settle recent accusations that its tuna salad doesn't include real tuna among its ingredients. The fast-food chain is already appealing to the court of public opinion with an advertising blitz touting its tuna salad sandwiches and wraps as made with "100% real wild caught tuna."  

The Milford, Connecticut, company launched the ad campaign after two California residents recently filed a lawsuit alleging something fishy about Subway's tuna salad. Specifically, the court complaint contends the menu items don't happen to include tuna, at least not in the samples the customers' attorney said were purchased and tested in California.

Offering 15% off the price of one of the company's tuna footlong sandwiches with the promo code "ITSREAL," Subway is promoting its tuna salad as "100% tuna mixed with mayo" in pop-up ads on its website and on social media. "Keep fishing folks, we'll keep serving 100% wild-caught tuna," the chain tweeted.

Filed late last month in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of California residents Karen Dhanowa and Nilima Amin, the suit claims the two "were tricked into buying food items that wholly lacked the ingredients they reasonably thought they were purchasing," based on its labeling. 

What Subway bills as tuna is a "mixture of various concoctions that do not constitute tuna, yet have been blended together by defendants to imitate the appearance of tuna," according to the complaint. "Consumers are consistently misled into purchasing the products for the commonly known and/or advertised benefits and characteristics of tuna when in fact no such benefits could be had, given that the products are in fact devoid of tuna."

"Conducting tests"

Alex Brown, an attorney with the Lanier Law Firm who is representing Dhanowa and Amin in the case, said the firm is trying to determine what ingredients are used in Subway's tuna. "We are conducting tests to figure out what it is. The lab tests thus far have only told us what it isn't," he said in an email to CBS MoneyWatch last week.

A spokesperson for the company denied the claims laid out in the lawsuit. "There simply is no truth to the allegations in the complaint that was filed in California," Maggie Truax, director of Global PR, said in an email to CBS MoneyWatch. "Subway delivers 100% 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."

According to the company's website, the tuna salad in the chain's sandwiches is made with flaked tuna in brine, mayonnaise and a flavor-protecting additive.

"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.

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

The suit isn't the first legal dispute that raised questions about Subway's products. Ireland's Supreme Court in September ruled that the bread Subway uses in its sandwiches could not legally be called bread in that country because of its high sugar content. And in the U.S. in 2017, an appeals court threw out a class-action settlement over claims the chain's "footlong subs" were an inch shy of the length advertised.

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