We know there’s been a lot of talk on this topic, including misinformation generated in the media, so we created this page to set forth the facts and help clarify any misunderstandings.
Tuna Fact Check
MYTH The New York Times reported Subway’s premium, fan-favorite tuna wasn’t actually tuna.
TRUTH Not true! What actually happened is that the New York Times commissioned a test that couldn’t detect tuna DNA in their sample. According to scientific experts, this is not unusual when testing cooked tuna and it absolutely doesn’t mean the sample that was tested contained zero tuna.
The New York Times test results only show that the type of DNA test done by the unnamed lab wasn’t a reliable way of determining whether the sample was tuna or not. If the test had confirmed the existence of a protein other than tuna, questions could have been raised. However, their “non-detect” conclusion really just means that the test was inadequate in determining what the protein was. In other words, it was a problem with the test, not the tuna.
Still not convinced? Check out USA Today’s independent fact check of the New York Times’ conclusion, which found it lacked important context about the limitations of DNA testing of denatured proteins, and some additional information from food DNA testing firm Applied Food Technologies about why DNA testing isn’t always conclusive in testing processed tuna given the cooking and packaging process breaks down the DNA fragments. The challenge of accurately testing processed tuna DNA has been known for a while, and even studied by scientists.
Has anyone else ever tested Subway’s tuna?
Yes. We test our tuna regularly to ensure it meets Subway’s stringent quality and safety requirements. And, of course, we have to comply with FDA regulations. But you don’t have to take our word for it. Applied Food Technologies is one of the only labs in the country with the ability to test broken-down fish DNA, which makes it more accurate in testing processed tuna. AFT conducted more than 50 individual tests on 150 pounds of Subway’s tuna for Inside Edition and confirmed yellowfin and/or skipjack tuna in every sample.
What requirements are in place to ensure that the tuna I buy is real tuna?
The processing and selling of tuna is highly regulated by governments around the world. In the U.S., the FDA has strict rules that we have to follow. In addition, the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) requires complete traceability of all tuna from time of catch through processing into finished goods and is required by U.S. Federal law.
What other quality control mechanisms are in place to ensure I’m getting 100% tuna?
In addition to standard testing and food quality measures taken to ensure the premium quality of all the food Subway serves, there are several certificates associated with the tuna in Subway’s U.S restaurants.
The Captain’s Statement includes the boat captain’s name and verification of the catch method and traceability information, including the Food and Agriculture Organization’s major fishing area identification number.
And the Catch Certificate lists the name of the boat that caught the fish and each volume of species harvested on that ship in metric tons. Subway’s tuna is also certified Dolphin Safe and Kosher.
What is the status of the lawsuit that started all of this misinformation?
After being presented with information about Subway’s tuna and the unreliability of DNA testing, the plaintiffs in the California lawsuit abandoned their original claim that Subway’s tuna product does not contain tuna.
However, rather than dismiss the claims altogether, as they should have, the plaintiffs’ lawyers filed an amended complaint that states entirely new and equally wrong claims.
The plaintiffs no longer claim that Subway tuna products contain no tuna. Instead, they now claim that Subway’s tuna is not 100% wild-caught skipjack and yellowfin tuna.
The plaintiffs do not allege facts or claim that they did any testing to determine that Subway’s tuna is not 100% wild-caught skipjack and yellowfin tuna. In fact, the amended complaint does not remedy any of the serious flaws in the plaintiffs’ case that should result in the case being dismissed.
Given the facts, the lawsuit constitutes a reckless and improper attack on Subway’s brand and goodwill, and on the livelihood of its franchisees.
Accordingly, Subway filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint. If the Court will not dismiss the claims at the pleading stage, which does not take into account any evidence, Subway will prove these facts and obtain judgment in the suit based on the evidence.
What about the allegations that Subway tuna is processed beyond recognition, is “flake” tuna or may contain other kinds of fish protein?
FDA-regulated Subway importers use only 100% wild-caught tuna from whole round, twice cleaned, skipjack tuna loins. Reclaimed meat and flake are strictly prohibited by our standards. The tuna that Subway guests enjoy is not processed any differently than canned or pouch tuna found in the average supermarket.
It’s also important to note that the word “flake” can be used in two different contexts when it comes to tuna, and this misunderstanding is a matter of semantics. Flaked tuna is not the same as tuna flake. Subway’s tuna product is listed as “Flaked Tuna in Brine” on its labels to describe the preparation of the tuna—specifically the piece size and the texture. It may display differently on the import records, where it appears to be written in short-hand. Subway specifically prohibits the use of any tuna flake, byproduct, or remnants in its tuna.
Who sources Subway tuna?
In the U.S., Subway’s tuna importers are Rema Foods and Jana Brands.
Rema Foods is a family-owned business, founded in 1964. It is a leading global food supplier, focused on providing unique specialty and commodity-based products. Their company has been a proud food supplier to Subway Restaurants for more than 20 years.
Steve Forman established Jana Brands in 1970. He grew it from a one-man business in a one-room office to a multi-national, multi-million-dollar seafood company. Jana Brands prides itself on being an innovative company since its inception bringing the industry high quality frozen and shelf-stable seafood products.
Read more from Rema Foods and Jana Brands on this topic.
Outside Industry Experts Weigh In
Applied Food Technologies, Inc. (AFT) has been working with the seafood industry and regulatory agencies such as FDA and USDA since 2005 to confirm the species of seafood in commerce and to verify market claims. We have worked with all the major players in the tuna industry for close to 15 years to develop DNA tests to identify species of tuna in heavily processed products such as canned/pouched tuna. Due to the high heat processing required during the canning or pouching process, tuna DNA is severely compromised (fragmented, degraded). As the DNA is fragmented in canned/pouched tuna processing, traditional DNA methods for species identification will not identify the DNA in these products. AFT has been awarded over $1M in Federal research funds to develop DNA methods that can definitively identify tuna species in canned/pouch tuna. Additionally, AFT has been provided with numerous tuna samples taken throughout the canning process from the tuna industry. With this research, we have developed DNA methods that can definitively identify tuna species in canned/pouch tuna.
Recently, in 2021, AFT tested over 150 pounds of Subway tuna salad (more than 50 individual tests/samples) and detected and identified tuna in every sample. My professional opinion, which is confirmed by our testing, is that Subway tuna products are indeed tuna.
AFT is ISO 17025 Accredited through ANAB (ANSI National Accreditation Board) specifically for DNA Speciation of Food.
LeeAnn Applewhite, Co-founder and President, Applied Food Technologies, Inc.
I have spent 50 years in the tuna business, with much of my career focused on ensuring the quality and regulatory compliance of canned tuna throughout the supply chain. Per FDA regulations, canned and pouched tuna are commercially sterilized at a high cooking temperature that denatures the DNA (i.e., breaks it down into smaller fragments)—meaning that some lab tests may not recognize these DNA fragments. It was irresponsible for a well-respected newspaper and a journalist, without a scientific background or knowledge on the topic, using an unnamed lab to conduct unreliable DNA testing on tuna, to call into question a national brand and favorite fish product with this so-called factual evidence. We must stick with the science, and science tells us that the issue was with the unverifiable DNA testing method, not with Subway’s tuna. As an industry veteran, I can attest that Subway works with respected and credible importers, following strict regulations, in order for their guests to enjoy a delicious, 100% real, tuna sub.
John DeBeer, retired VP of Quality and Compliance for Chicken of the Sea Intl, and Published Tuna Industry Expert