Subway sandwich closeup photo

Is Subway Healthy? Alleged Ex-Employees Rip Chicken, Veggies

Their $5 $6 footlong is perceived by many as a healthier choice for lunch than Chipotle, McDonald’s, Jimmy Johns, and many other fast food restaurants. Indeed, the calorie count on several of Subways’ sandwiches are lower than the typical food served at a lot of other places.

Dieting? Contrary to what some people falsely believe, carbs (e.g. bread) is a nutrient we need. So yes, a Subway sandwich is good for weight loss. Rather than demonize the bread, we would advise focusing more on how many calories you’re piling on top of it.

Of course, their bread will be bad for you if you’re gluten free. That aside, for other specialized diets like vegans and vegetarians, a stop at Subway offers more choices than just about any burger joint.

For a vegan meal, we like their Veggie Delight sub without cheese. It contains a fraction of the sodium, fat, and calories of a typical Chipotle Sofritas bowl or burrito. Plus, tons of fresh veggies.

But it’s that freshness which is being attacked on Reddit. A while back, a thread on there was started with the title (1): “Subway Q&A – Ask Me Anything Subway Related”

Some of the comments are from purported current or former employees of Subway. If true, they are quite disturbing.

Though we stress that these are people posting anonymously who only claim to have worked for the sandwich chain. They offered no proof of their employment or any evidence to back up their food safety concerns. So please keep in mind these are unsubstantiated allegations. They might be lying. They might be disgruntled ex-employees or customers.

With those caveats said, here are some of the allegations being made on that Reddit thread.

User who claimed to work at CA location

The user “horuma” posted:

“I worked at subway last year in California. I wouldn’t eat the chicken, the tomatoes (unless you can see that they’re ripe), or the bell peppers. My boss didn’t give us a choice when it came to freshness. If she paid for it, unless it had mold on it, we had to serve it. Some time she had us cut off the moldy parts and serve the rest. Some of the tomatoes were so squishy that they would explode when cutting them. I was yelled at multiple times for trying to throw away rotten veggies that she felt were okay to serve. So I just stopped cutting veggies when she was there. If the bell peppers had black spots on them, cut and serve them. Oh that spicy chicken over there has been sitting there for a week? Serve it.”

This comment in particular made our stomachs queasy, being that we are located in Los Angeles.

The USDA website actually addresses the topic of whether it’s safe to cut mold off vegetables and still eat them (2). This is what they say…

For soft vegetables and fruits such as cucumbers, tomatoes, etc. you are instructed to discard them, because their high moisture content means the mold might have spread below the surface.

For firm vegetables and fruits such as bell peppers, carrots, etc. they do say you can use them, but you must cut off the food at least 1 inch away from where you see the mold. Given the cross-contamination risks they highlight, about making sure you avoid the knife from touching the mold, in our opinion it sounds like it would be safer to not risk it and simply toss these in the trash, too. At least that’s what we do in our own kitchens for this scenario.

Presumably, the USDA’s advice is directed towards at-home food prep, since restaurant safety to avoid food poisoning is strictly regulated by a whole set of red tape.

The same user continues their review by alleging…

“One night the fridge broke, (in the middle of California’s summer) and the food was sitting in there for god’s knows how long… The smell in the back room was awful. What would have been the right thing to do? Throw out all the food, for safety reasons. But no, we had to serve it. All the meat for the next few days smelt worse than the chicken and the roast beef combined. However, this was just my shop. Not sure what’s like elsewhere.”

The USDA calls temperatures between 40° and 140°F as “the danger zone” because the amount of bacteria can double in as little as 20 minutes (3). Since the average refrigerator is kept at a temperature in the mid to high 30’s (35° to 38° in households), after a power failure it doesn’t take long for that 40° threshold to be exceeded.

Chicken sandwich allegations

It appears this user’s account has been deleted, so a username isn’t even listed. Their location is unknown. Their comment remains and this is what it alleges:

“Avoid: Chipotle Chicken & Teriyaki Chicken (Why? Chicken is given a two day shelf life, once in the counter. However these two bypass this and get four days, and can get a little stinky)”

Who “these two” are is unclear, but he/she/they seems to infer the 2 day shelf life is exceeded. Is Subway good for you then? Well setting aside that for a moment, the remainder of the comment is actually quite positive:

“I’d recommend anything else, subway (at least my subway) is very strict on quality control and dates. Steak is probably the freshest, and safest.”

Follow-up comment from another user

User “imradokay” replied to the prior comment and claimed they were an employee for around a year in the United States. It “amazes” this user that there was only a 2 day shelf life, because they allege:

“Our CT had a 5 day shelf and we were told that once it reaches the 5th day, to just change the date. With all of the shift changes and varying factors, we never knew how long this chicken was out (between 5-9 days). I quit after I got reprimanded for throwing out CT on the 5 day.”

It seems “CT” probably meant Chicken Teriyaki sub meat.

Hopefully none of that was true, because one of the most common causes of food poisoning, salmonella, is often linked to chicken and poultry. According to the CDC, an estimated 1.2 million illnesses per year are attributed to salmonella in the US (4). Think about it… that’s about 1 out of every 300 people! It’s why you definitely don’t want to bend the rules when it comes to chicken and health guidelines.

But not all comments are bad…

These accusations are within a small minority – not the norm – among the nearly 200 comments on that Reddit thread. There are plenty of purported current or ex-employees of Subway who heap praises on the food and are not sharing horror stories.

Even a deleted user – it’s unclear if it’s the same aforementioned person – had this to say about their tuna sandwich:

“Tuna is very popular in my store. Tuna has a 3 day shelf life once made, but I make it every morning and sell what I have made the same day. It depends on the store.”

The fact that many Subway locations are popular and do have high turnover is actually something that’s a positive for safety… because in theory, it means the food is sold quicker, and hence, sits there for a shorter amount of time.

Donald Trump eating Kentucky Fried Chicken on private plane

He hasn’t tweeted any fast food pics since becoming President, but what Donald Trump eats privately has included KFC and McDonald’s. Those might be bad for weight loss and cardiovascular health but he points out, it does actually make sense in ONE regard… when it comes to food poisoning risks, it might be healthier to eat from big chains rather than “someplace that you have no idea where the food’s coming from. It’s a certain standard.”

Indeed, chains have high turnover and if followed, high standards. Though, they can always be improved upon…

Our recommendations for Subway

Whether the aforementioned comments are true, exaggerated, or completely fabricated, there are a few policies which would be a good idea to adapt regardless. Not just for Subway, but other fast food chains as well. These things could help keep franchisees in check and curtail the possibility of corners being cut.

1. For employees, have an anonymous safety violations tip line + email

There should be an anonymous 24/7 phone line for employees to call and report violations (e.g. if a manager told them to serve moldy vegetables). Plus, an email and number to text the violations to, since no one actually talks on phones these days.

Even if something like this does exist, regular and recurring efforts need to be made to ensure employees are aware of it. At the very least, a permanent sign posted in a prominent location, like next to the mandatory job safety and health protection poster.

Plus, strict countermeasures in place to ensure the employee doesn’t have to worry about retribution from their manager, if they were to be accused of being the one who complained. Because after all, the list of suspects would be quite short.

2. Policies to encourage the return of ingredients by franchisees

Like most major franchisors, it’s publicly known that Subway keeps a tight leash on the supply chain. What kinds of polices do they have in place to not only allow, but also encourage franchisees to return bad or unused food?

If they give them credits for defective food, that probably isn’t ideal because in theory, an unscrupulous franchisee could accept the credit, yet still continue to sell the bad food they were supposed to discard. Instead, the act of returning the food (and someone verifying the amount returned) should be required to receive the credit.

And unused or expired food? There should be a return policy for that, too. If a franchisee ends up with more food than they need, they should be able to return it. That would take away the incentive to keep selling it past the expiration dates.

3. Stringent audit process to track when ingredients are used

We’re decades beyond the days of primitive cash registers. Now, software is keeping track of exactly what items people are buying and when.

Let’s say a franchisee bought 1,000 chicken patties which expire in 7 days. Check their point of sale records and see how many they sold during that time. If they only sold 700, then the remaining 300 should be tracked to ensure they’re not being used in grilled or oven roasted chicken sandwiches the following week.

And if that franchisee didn’t request another chicken patty delivery until day 10, then that should be a red flag right there as to what they were using during days 8 and 9.

The Subway corporate page does talk about “stringent audit processes” they use (5):

“To ensure that the food we serve is always fresh and sustainably produced, we have  stringent audit processes that we enforce throughout our supply chain as well as require that our suppliers’ employment practices meet our Vendor Code of Conduct.”

But when we click the link at the end of that sentence for the “Vendor Code of Conduct” we got this…

404 error on Subway's site

So as to what exactly their current Vendor Code of Conduct is, we don’t know.

The bottom line is that yes, Subway is healthy for you if ordering the right way (such as limiting the mayo, cheese, and other higher fat/sodium-rich ingredients). When you do that, not only are their sandwiches better, but they are substantially healthier than the vast majority of competing fast food options you have in most markets.

But of course, that’s also contingent on food being made in a safe manner, so we certainly hope that the allegations made by purported ex-employees are false and/or are adequately addressed.