World’s Biggest Restaurant Chain Ditches Artificial Ingredients

Another big food player is falling in line with consumer demand by ousting preservatives, dyes, and other nefarious food extras.

(Photo: Subway/Facebook)

Jun 4, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Josh Scherer has written for Epicurious, Thrillist, and Los Angeles magazine. He is constantly covered in corn chip crumbs.

Subway joins McDonald’s, Kraft, Nestlé, and Taco Bell as the latest head of the big food hydra to remove artificial ingredients from one or more of its items.

Now, when you order your turkey sub on wheat with extra banana peppers, not only will your bread be free of azodicarbonamide—the “yoga mat chemical” famously demonized by Food Babe—but your meat will be propionic acid–free, and your peppers will lack that signature, glow-in-the-dark yellow dye #5 hue. Subway will now use good old-fashioned vinegar to prevent its meat from spoiling and turmeric to make sure its pickles don’t look boring.

The caramel coloring in the roast beef will be omitted without replacement, leaving it, well, just the color of cooked cow flesh.

So, Why Should You Care? Many of the additives that go into our food are listed under the FDA’s umbrella term “generally recognized as safe,” which means the substance has been tested and approved by “qualified experts.” However, these so-called experts—qualified as they may be—are rarely impartial. In 2012, researchers from The Journal of the American Medical Association analyzed 451 different GRAS claims submitted to the FDA and found that financially objective third parties executed zero of the safety assessments. Even worse, the company that manufactured the food additive in the first place carried out more than 20 percent of the tests. The system is deeply flawed, and if your sandwich can be made sans faultily tested ingredients, it should be.

Subway has long staked its name on being a healthier alternative to traditional, burger-forward fast food—after all, it helped Jared Fogle lose 245 pounds—but, according to Darren Tristano, an analyst for consulting firm Technomic, consumers are no longer quantifying “healthy” by low calorie and fat content but by lack of chemicals and preservatives.

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“Change has come so fast and rapidly, consumers are just expecting more and more,” Tristano told ABC News. “As their expectations go up, we have to meet those expectations.”

The change in sandwich eaters’ collective consciousness was not just pushed by hard science and Food Babe–like activists but by smaller, competing chains that have responded to demand more quickly. Panera Bread, for instance, announced back in June that it would be phasing out several artificial ingredients from its menu, with the goal of eliminating them entirely by 2016.

It took Subway almost a year to catch up.

The sandwich juggernaut, which has about 44,000 locations worldwide, making it the biggest restaurant chain in history, has not exactly been pleasing its consumer base as of late. Though the company is privately funded and does not fully disclose its profits, it is estimated that same-store sales are down 3 percent since 2014.

Nothing tells a company it needs to step up its game like $400 million in lost revenue.