Subway responds to claims that chicken strips are mostly soy

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A Subway chicken sandwich with guacamole | SUBWAY, via USATODAY

A DNA testing of chicken sold at Subway restaurants in Canada revealed that two of the chain’s popular sandwiches contain poultry that’s only part meat, according a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report.

A DNA researcher from Ontario’s Trent University analyzed six grilled chicken sandwiches from fast food chains for the CBC’s Marketplace program and found that while most sandwiches—from chains including McDonald’s, Wendy’s and A&W—contained “very close” to 100% chicken, the Subway products fell woefully short.

The chain’s oven roasted chicken tested as 53.6% chicken DNA, CBC reported, while strips of its sweet onion chicken teriyaki registered as 42.8% chicken DNA.

While straight-from-the-store chicken should test at 100%, adding seasoning or marinating chicken would necessarily bring that number down. (Wendy’s grilled chicken sandwich, for example, tested at 88.5% chicken DNA.)

Subway’s chicken tested so low that researchers at Trent University’s Wildlife Forensic DNA Laboratory analyzed an additional five samples of each product, which confirmed the original results.

Most of the chicken’s non-meat DNA was soy, the broadcaster said.

In a statement published Wednesday in Consumer Affairs, Subway spokesman Kevin Kane angrily denounced the study’s findings:

Two independent laboratories testing Subway® chicken have found that alleged test results broadcast on Feb. 24 by the Canadian Television show, Marketplace, were false and misleading. Test results from laboratories in Canada and the U.S. clearly show that the Canadian chicken products tested had only trace amounts of soy, contradicting the accusations made during the broadcast of CBC Marketplace. Subway representatives immediately contacted the program and the lab that conducted the tests to inquire about the methodology and the testing process. The program and the lab declined to engage with Subway except to share the results. In response, Subway sent samples of the Canadian products that Marketplace claimed contained 50% soy protein to Maxxam Analytics in Canada and Elisa Technologies, Inc., in Florida.The results from both labs found soy protein below 10 ppm, or less than 1%, in all tested samples. These findings are consistent with the low levels of soy protein that we add with the spices and marinade to help keep the products moist and flavorful. The stunningly flawed test by Marketplace is a tremendous disservice to our customers. The safety, quality and integrity of our food is the foundation of our business. That’s why we took extra caution to test and retest the chicken. Our customers can have confidence in our food. The allegation that our chicken is only 50% chicken is 100% wrong, said SUBWAY President and CEO Suzanne Greco. Dave Theno, Subway’s Chief of Food Safety & Quality, said, Our chicken is 100% white meat with seasonings, marinated, cooked and delivered to our restaurants. The chicken has no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Through years of testing, we’ve never seen results like the program claimed. Subway has shared the results of the independent tests with Marketplace and the lab that conducted the flawed test. The company is demanding a retraction and apology.

CBC had issued no clarification or correction for its report as of Wednesday afternoon. As the Washington Post noted, the CBC’s analysis was not subject to peer review or submitted to any scientific journal. But CBC’s findings would be far from the first to tarnish the public’s trust in Subway’s ingredients.

The company faced backlash in 2014 after a health blogger criticized its bread for containing azodicarbonamide, an ingredient found in yoga mats as well as food served at McDonald’s and Starbucks. Subway later phased it out of its products.

In 2015, Subway said it would start measuring its footlong subs in response to a lawsuit claiming customers were shorted centimeters of food.

Subway built its brand as a healthy option to fast food, riding on the success story of now-disgraced former spokesman Jared Fogle. Consumers’ attitudes on health have shifted since, leading them to value local and wholesome ingredients over calorie counting.

As a result, Subway announced it would roll out an all-natural menu void of artificial flavors, colors and preservatives by this year.

Josh Hafner, USA TODAY

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