Friendly Head’s Up: Subway Chicken Is Not Actually Chicken

by Meredith Bland
Originally Published: 
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We hope you meant “soy” when you ordered chicken

We know fast food isn’t good for us, so those of us trying to eat better might choose to get a chicken sandwich from Subway as a healthier alternative. Well, bad news — it turns out that those chicken sandwiches are actually “chicken” sandwiches.

Matt Harnden, a researcher at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, conducted a survey that examined sandwiches from restaurants such as McDonald’s, Chipotle, Wendy’s, and Subway. At the request of the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s show, “Marketplace,” his lab tested the DNA of the chicken in the sandwiches. That’s right — they CSI’d the chicken.

In a plain old piece of uncooked chicken from the grocery store, you should get 100% chicken DNA. (I mean, really. We’re not asking for much.) Once chicken gets cooked or processed that percentage goes down, but the end result should still be pretty high. For example, in this study, researchers found that the chicken in the McDonald’s Country Chicken sandwich contained 84.9% chicken DNA, and in Wendy’s Grilled Chicken sandwich there was 88.5% chicken DNA. How did Subway do? Not real well. The chicken in their Oven Roasted chicken sandwich contained 53.6% chicken DNA, and their chicken strips contained only 42.8% chicken DNA. The rest of the chicken was actually soy.

These results caused Harnden’s lab to do a scientific spit-take. Because the results were “such an outlier,” they tested the chicken from an additional seven Oven Roasted Chicken sandwiches and another six orders of chicken strips. In each test, they again found that the chicken from the sandwiches contained around 50% chicken DNA and that the strips were again around 40% chicken DNA.

We aren’t food snobs or anything, but we do expect that when we order chicken we’re getting something that is at least mostly chicken. And if we’re only getting half chicken, we hope it’s the front half and that Subway hasn’t had those poor Canadians eating nasty back-half chicken.

(Before you comment — that’s a joke.)

It’s important to note that the CBC’s report “was not published in a scientific journal or subject to peer-review,” according to the Washington Post, and therefore their results haven’t been verified. Also, Subway has responded to the CBC with a firm denial: “Subway Canada [is] concerned by the alleged findings…Our chicken strips and oven roasted chicken contain 1% or less of soy protein. All of our chicken items are made from 100% white meat chicken,” they said. Then they went out with their friends, had too many drinks, and made another statement to Consumer Affairs that said, “We do not know how they produced such unreliable and factually incorrect data, but we are insisting on a full retraction. Producing high-quality food for our customers is our highest priority. This report is wrong and it must be corrected.” Then they vomited into their glass and said, “And Wendy’s a whore!” (Okay. We made that last part up.)

Verified or not, it’s studies like this that make you worry about food. I mean, what else don’t we know? We’re going to end up giving our carrots the side eye and shaking our cans of beans screaming, “What is in you?!” For now, though, we can use this as unproven but worrying information that might direct us towards those meatless fast food options. But if we find out that the vegetables on the Veggie Delight are only 50% vegetable, we are going to buy a cow, live off the land, make our own clothes, and…hoo boy, that sounds exhausting.

Maybe we’ll just stay away from fast food chicken.

**UPDATED ON 3/3/17: Subway denies that their chicken contains as much soy as CBC claims.

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