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For-tuna favors the bold, but customers don't favor food chains that aren't serving up what they claim to be. Subway is the latest restaurant chain to find this out the hard way, as a class-action lawsuit alleges that the sandwich chain's "tuna" wasn't what it promised to be.
Plaintiffs Karen Dhanowa and Nilima Amin filed the class-action lawsuit in California in early 2021, claiming that Subway's tuna was purposely mislabeled as being "100% sustainably caught skipjack and yellowfin tuna" when it actually was "completely bereft of tuna." Though the plaintiffs later retracted this extreme claim, their suit alleges that Subway's tuna has been so altered or processed as to be "malicious[ly]" misrepresented on food labels and advertisements.
Subway has refuted all of the plaintiff's claims and maintains that the lawsuit should be dismissed for its "frivolous" claims. The chain also recently revamped its menu but elected not to make any changes to its tuna products.
A lab analysis conducted as part of a New York Times investigation of Subway tuna found that the product was either so heavily processed or mislabeled that the results could not pinpoint a single type of fish of origin for the meat. Both of the two types of tuna Subway claims to use in its fish mix should have been identifiable by the lab.
If the suit prevails, all purchasers of Subway tuna products after January 20, 2017, may be entitled to some form of compensation.
Over the last few years, several notable lawsuits have led to significant changes to the food industry. Food labeling lawsuits in particular have become more common in recent years, as industries tighten regulations and customers complain that what they're buying isn't exactly what's listed on the packaging.
Nestlé and Frito-Lay have both been served with lawsuits over whether they properly labeled products as being "artificially" flavored; La Croix was similarly sued, but the plaintiff later dropped the suit. A customer recently filed a class-action lawsuit over brewing company Anheuser-Busch's tequila-free margarita-flavored beverages, claiming the label was misleading.
It's not always customers filing lawsuits in the food world, however. The dairy alternative and dairy industries recently fought over the right to use the word "milk" on labels for foods that do not contain dairy.
Food safety issues are also a common reason for lawsuits. Multiple e.coli outbreaks caused the chain Chipotle to cough up more than $25 million in fines and settlements, plus their stock plummeted and their then-CEO eventually resigned.