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Subway's "Eat Fresh" Slogan Is Alarmingly Misleading, Operators Say

"People don't even know how many chemicals they're consuming when they're eating at Subway."

Disgruntled Subway franchisees have become increasingly vocal about their corroding relationship with the sandwich chain amid growing rumors that the company is planning to sell itself to investors. One point of contention, which was outlined in a recent open letter to co-owner Elisabeth DeLuca and signed by more than 100 Subway operators, is the claim that the food served at the chain's restaurants isn't as fresh as it could be. In a new pair of interviews, franchisees allege that Subway's marketing slogan "eat fresh" is, in fact, alarmingly misleading—and that the misrepresentation is making the brand lose favor with customers.

Two sources behind the open letter, who requested anonymity over concerns of retaliation from the company, claim that Subway has absolute control over the procurement of supplies at stores, from ingredients to cleaning supplies and even staff uniforms. Because the company maintains a tight grip on distribution channels, operators' hands are tied when it comes to improving the quality of food at their own restaurants, even if purchasing fresher ingredients from local vendors would save them money. (There's New Legal Drama Around McDonald's Soft Serve Machines)

One example that both operators highlighted in unison is the life cycle of the chain's lettuce. The produce is purportedly picked, processed (aka chopped up), packaged, and transported to restaurants from a distribution center. By the time it arrives at Subway, it's allegedly anywhere between 10 to 15 days old. Considering the fact that most franchisees get their permitted supply of vegetables once a week (some higher-volume stores get deliveries twice a week), that lettuce may be up to 22 days old by the time it lands on your sandwich.

And that's only one example. According to one operator in the western region, all of the "fresh" ingredients, including other vegetables and chicken, arrive at restaurants pre-processed and laden with preservatives.

"The 'eat fresh' slogan is absolutely misleading," he tells Eat This, Not That!. "People are willing to pay extra for healthy these days, but they want an honest product."

Subway tells Eat This, Not That! it requires food purchases from approved suppliers in order to maintain the safety and consistency of its products.

But the same operator alleges that Subway generally operates within loopholes in the Food and Drug Administration's regulations, which mandate the standard of quality of food products. And this isn't the first time that the ingredients in the chain's food have been called into question. It was only in 2014 that the company decided to drop azodiacarbonamide, a chemical used in yoga mats and shoe soles, from its bread after thousands of concerned individuals demanded the change in a petition.

More recently, a lawsuit questioned the ingredients in Subway's tuna, which allegedly didn't contain any tuna when tested in a food lab. And a TikTok video showing what the chain's steak looks like straight out of the package didn't further help convince consumers about the quality of the food at America's largest fast-food company.

While some other fast-food chains likely have similar brand-wide mandates when it comes to procuring and storing ingredients, this operator thinks customers can sense dishonesty.

"Other chains don't advertise themselves as 'fresh,'" he says. "People don't even know how many chemicals they're consuming when they're eating at Subway—it's anything but fresh, healthy food."

Another operator on the West Coast shares the same sentiments, adding that the ethics of the "eat fresh" slogan really bother him as a business owner.

"'Fresh' is an objective description," he says. "Be honest, be ethical, say we are low cost, and maybe that will resonate."

According to him, Subway lost its way with its messaging a long time ago. Now, the chain allegedly tries to fit the mold of whatever buzzy trend will bring in business. A franchisee for decades, he has witnessed many iterations of how the chain brands its sandwiches.

"In 2004 we were healthy, 2008 we were cheap, then we tried becoming fresh," he says. "Now, we are none of those things anymore."

Subway, however, maintains that its food is freshly made in a statement issued to Eat This, Not That!.

"We serve freshly made sandwiches, wraps, bowls, and salads," the company says, "and stand behind the quality and freshness of our food while complying fully with all laws on advertising."

For more on Subway, check out America's Largest Fast-Food Chain Is on a Downward Spiral, Reports Say. And don't forget to sign up for our newsletter to get all of the latest restaurant news delivered straight to your inbox.

Mura Dominko
Mura is ETNT's Executive Editor, leading the coverage of America's favorite restaurant chains, grocery stores, and viral food moments. Read more about Mura