Foodborne illnesses impact a lot of people each and every year. Around 48 million people, or 1 in 6, get sick, and of those individuals, 128,000 are hospitalized because of a foodborne illness. These staggering numbers create a significant cost to public health and can drastically alter the lives of those impacted.

Food manufacturers are committed to producing the safest and highest-quality products to protect consumers, but also to protect their brand and business. According to Food Safety Magazine, the average cost of a food recall to a company is $10 million. That number doesn't take into account the damage to the company's brand and lost sales.

Food Safety Magazine also noted there were at least 382 food product recalls made by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) in 2018 alone.

Each year Dot Foods manages between 50 and 75 recalls on behalf of its manufacturers.

"Most people think of a foodborne illness outbreak when they think of a recall; in fact, most recalls are proactive, removing dangerous food from the supply chain before they reach the consumer," said Greg Cassens, Dot Foods director of food safety & quality assurance. "Lately, the most common types of recalls are due to undeclared allergens-either due to a labeling error or an unintentional inclusion of an allergen during the production process."

But food hazards can also enter into product from farm to table; therefore, food safety is critical to every link in the food supply chain.  

When the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed, food distributors were tasked with implementing the same food safety plans and principles as a food manufacturer because the FSMA recognized "that ensuring the safety of the food supply is a shared responsibility among many different points in the global supply chain."

Although food industry professionals would not consider food safety to be a competitive advantage, quality assurance can be. Distributors must invest in their cold chain (fleet and warehouse), in systems, technology, and industry certifications to keep up with increasing customer expectations, Cassens said.

One obstacle that continues to come up within the industry: investment. Food safety professionals agree that it is hard to calculate an ROI when spending money on food safety, said Cassens. But one less injury in the plant, decreased operating costs, or higher production rates are easier to quantify. Preventing a foodborne illness or FDA non-compliance is not-but considering the long-term impact to brand and public perception, it can't be discounted.

"At Dot Foods, we think about it a little bit differently," Cassens said. "We are investing in technology to continuously monitor, in real time, the temperatures in our fleet. We have completed Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) certifications at all our distribution centers (DCs), averaging 99.3 percent across our DCs in 2019."

Dot Foods has also invested in information technology, such as using a tablet to receive and ship product in order to automate all the food safety requirements.

Cassens encourages any of Dot's business partners to contact him if they are interested in learning more about Dot's best practices or starting a conversation about the topic.

"When we are all engaged in the conversation, we are better able to understand and meet food safety requirements," he said.