The Donut Debates and Seafood Hoaxes: What Happens When ‘Alleged Food Fraud’ Reaches the Courts

Allegations of fish fraud continue at Subway after a federal judge denied the fast-food chain’s request to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that its tuna sandwiches were “partly or entirely” lacking in tuna.

In January 2021, plaintiffs Karen Danoa and Nelima Amin filed several copies of a proposed class action lawsuit, accusing Subway of deceiving the public about the contents of the tuna, which was advertised as “100% tuna.” In the November 2021 version of the lawsuit, prosecutors claimed that lab tests showed a sample of tuna contained animal proteins such as chicken and pork.

At the time, Subway dismissed the lawsuit as “reckless and inappropriate,” and launched several ad campaigns – including TV ads and a new web page – to defend its tuna.

However, earlier this week, US District Judge John Tegar ruled that Amin’s lawsuit should continue; The judge dismissed Dhanowa’s allegations after she was unable to confirm whether she had paid for a Subway tuna sandwich.

While Subway admitted that its tuna sandwich Do Include ingredients other than tuna, which the chain claims are ingredients consumers have come to expect, such as eggs from the mayonnaise used to bind tuna salad. But the central facts of the case have not been settled, according to Tegar, because the allegations “refer to ingredients that a reasonable consumer would not expect to find in a tuna product.”

Across US courtrooms, disputes over discrepancies between products advertised by food companies and the actual ingredients in said products are not uncommon.

For example, in 2016, a California man named Jason Seidan sued Krispy Kreme because the maple bars did not contain actual maple syrup; Blueberry cake glazed cakes do not contain real berries; And their raspberry-infused ice cream contains no real berries.

According to a 2017 court filing, Saedan alleged that he purchased the products believing they “contain the ingredients indicated in the product name” and that “this belief was not unreasonable because [n]o List of ingredients is provided or made available to customers [sic] at Krispy Kreme Stores.” Saiadan also claimed that he would not have purchased the products, or would have paid much less for the products, had he known that they did not contain the relevant ‘Premium Ingredient’.

Saidan also claimed that other consumers may have purchased the cake specifically for blueberries, because the berries “have the potential to reduce the development and severity of certain cancers, vascular diseases … and the neurodegenerative diseases of aging.”

However, it appears that the court did not buy into the idea that consumers buy cakes in bulk for their health benefits; The case was eventually voluntarily dismissed with prejudice.

That same year, a man named Alexander Vorozci attempted a class action claiming that customers ordering cold drinks from Starbucks had received less liquid than advertised, because the ice could occupy up to 10 fluid ounces. The case was quickly dismissed by US District Judge Percy Anderson.

“If children find that including ice in a cold drink reduces the amount of fluid they will have,” Anderson wrote, “the court would have no difficulty in concluding that a reasonable consumer would not be fooled into thinking that when he orders iced tea.” “that the drink they would receive would include both ice and tea and that a portion of the drink for a certain sized cup, would be iced rather than any liquid beverage ordered by the consumer.”

The decision in the Subway case is unlikely to be conclusive and dry.

As Matthew Rosa of Salon reported in 2021, fish fraud is rampant — and the Subway tuna scandal is just the tip of the iceberg.

“In the United States, studies released since 2014 have found an average fraud rate (weighted by sample size) of 28%,” Rosa wrote. “Worldwide, Asian catfish, hake and scallops were the most commonly substituted fish; more than half (58%) of the replacement fish were species that could make some consumers sick.”

According to Kevin McKay, chief operating officer of sustainable seafood company Safe Catch, the waters are getting increasingly hazy when looking at how the fish is marketed.

“We get confusion from consumers all the time about which fish are good to eat and which are not,” Mackay said. “So, we’re not too surprised that these same consumers might also question the transparency of a big company like Subway.”

He continued, “Some companies may be looking for ways to reduce their costs, but it is important that this not be at the expense of customers. Transparency in seafood is important to both customers and the integrity of the industry. Food purity is important. Transparency issues.”

For example, it is very common for consumers to buy or serve “light tuna,” which is actually a mixture of several smaller types of tuna, such as skipjack and tongol welteel. From the packaging, customers may think that they only eat one type of fish. Subway lists its tuna as “blanked tuna in brine” and asserts that its FDA-controlled importers “use only 100% wild-caught tuna from the entire round, double cleaned, skipped tuna.”

This does not take into account the other Animal proteins — such as pork and chicken — that the lawsuit alleges were found in the chain’s tuna salad. However, the US District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed the portion of Amin’s suit claiming that “a tuna salad, sandwich, or cabbage contains 100% tuna and nothing else.”

For now, what such tuna product might contain remains up to the court. Before the case moved to the next stage, Tijar Amin gave three weeks to respond to this part of his ruling.

The salon has contacted Subway regarding the ongoing lawsuit, but has not received a response as of press time.

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