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Lawsuit claims Subway's tuna sandwiches contain no tuna

A lawsuit filed in California accused Subway of selling tuna sandwiches that are "bereft of tuna."
Subway fast food restaurant
A Tuna Sandwich from a Subway restaurant.Jorg Carstensen / dpa via Getty Images

A class action lawsuit filed last week in California accuses Subway, the Connecticut-based fast food giant, of fraud and false advertising over the content of its tuna sandwiches, which the suit claims is an "entirely non-tuna based mixture that Defendants blended to resemble tuna and imitate its texture."

Subway denied the allegations, telling 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."

"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," Maggie Truax, Subway's director of global PR, said in an emailed statement to NBC News. "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."

Over the course of dozens of pages of the lawsuit, plaintiffs Karen Dhanowa and Nilima Amin claim they are seeking to represent a class of Subway customers who bought tuna sandwiches that they claim "entirely lack any trace of tuna as a component, let alone the main or predominant ingredient."

The January 21 suit, filed in the U.S. District Court's Northern District of California, claims that "independent testing has repeatedly affirmed" the plaintiffs' claims, but does not mention where these tests were performed, when or by whom. There was no specific evidence to support these claims noted in the suit.

Dhanowa did not respond to NBC News requests for comment via phone call and text message. Amin did not respond to a NBC News emailed request for comment.

Their fraud allegations, Dhanowa and Amin's suit says, partly stem from the fact that the tuna sandwich is costlier than other sandwiches on the menu.

"Had Plaintiffs and other class members known the Products actually lacked tuna as an ingredient, they would not have bought the Products or would have paid substantially less money for them," the suit said.

Noting that the plaintiffs consumed the sandwiches as recently as 2020, the suit also says the plaintiffs did not test the tuna in the sandwiches they actually ate.

"When they were each purchasing and consuming the Products, Plaintiffs did not take steps to verify the Products’ components, or whether the Products contained tuna as an ingredient."

In an emailed statement, Alex Brown, managing attorney for Lanier Law Firm, which filed the suit, repeated the suit's claim that "independent tests of multiple samples sold at different locations showed the absence of tuna or even a fish protein."

"We’re confident that our clients will prevail when they get their day in court," Brown said.

When asked to cite any additional details about the tests, Johnny Cargill, a spokesperson for Lanier Law Firm, declined to comment.

For its part, the Milford, Connecticut based sandwich giant said the suit is "part of a trend" of "targeting the food industry in an effort to make a name for themselves in that space."

"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, in California and around the world, and intends to fight these claims through all available avenues if they are not immediately dismissed," Truax said.