Subway tuna sandwich DNA results: The controversy explained

A New York Times report about the sandwich chain's tuna sandwiches has raised eyebrows. Here's why people are talking about how much tuna is in a tuna sandwich.

Erin Carson Former Senior Writer
Erin Carson covered internet culture, online dating and the weird ways tech and science are changing your life.
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Erin Carson
2 min read

Do Subway's tuna sandwiches contain tuna?

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Fast-food chain Subway is fielding questions about just how much tuna could actually be in its tuna sandwiches. The answer could be very little, according to a Wednesday report from The New York Times involving DNA testing of sandwiches.

Here's what the Times uncovered and what social media has to say about the results.

Why is there suspicion around Subway's tuna?

The New York Times didn't randomly decide to test Subway's tuna sandwiches for their true tuna virtue. In January, The Washington Post reported on a lawsuit against the chain that claimed that whatever was in the sandwiches was actually "made from anything but tuna."

This isn't the first time someone has questioned what's in Subway's food. In 2014, Subway took fire for including in its bread a chemical called azodicarbonamide, which is also used in yoga mats. The company phased out the chemical. 

What did the lab find?

A commercial food testing lab analyzed more than 60 inches of Subway tuna sandwiches from three different Subway locations in Los Angeles. It found that "no amplifiable tuna DNA was present in the sample." 

The lab said this could mean one of two things: Either there's no tuna in the sandwiches, or whatever tuna is being used is so overly processed the lab couldn't make an identification. 

The report also noted, though, that this isn't the only DNA test that's been done. Inside Edition sent samples to a lab as well, back in February, and did find tuna present in the samples tested.

What does Subway say about all this?

"The fact is Subway restaurants serve 100% wild-caught, cooked tuna, which is mixed with mayonnaise and used in freshly made sandwiches, wraps and salads that are served to and enjoyed by our guests," the company said in a statement. 

Subway also noted that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit have backed off the claim somewhat: "Even the plaintiffs have softened their original claims. In a new filing from June, their complaints centered not on whether Subway's tuna was tuna at all, but whether it was '100% sustainably caught skipjack and yellowfin tuna,' the statement read. 

 In addition, the company took issue with the idea of DNA testing. "DNA testing is simply not a reliable way to identify denatured proteins, like Subway's tuna, which was cooked before it was tested," the statement said. 

Social media reaction

Not surprisingly, folks are poking fun at the situation. "Half my text messages right now are about the NYC mayor's race," one person tweeted. "The other half are friends trying to figure out what the hell they were eating when they ordered tuna from Subway."