Produce suppliers and other industry businesses face acute challenges and an urgent need for change as the government implements a sweeping overhaul of U.S. food safety regulations, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP said.

The Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law by President Obama last month, will usher in a new era of regulation with “increased enforcement, stiffer penalties and broader record-keeping requirements for high-risk food,” the New York-based consulting firm said in a recent report.

Food processors will be required to develop and document safety plans that identify and prevent hazards at each facility, according to the report co-written by Leavitt Partners, LLC, a Salt Lake City-based lobbying firm. For the full report, go to

“Heightened focus on food safety by consumers, regulators and Congress has created new challenges for the food industry that can result in erosion of a brand overnight,” David Acheson, Managing Director of Leavitt Partner's Food and Import Safety Practice and and former associate commissioner for food at the Food and Drug Administration, said in the report.

New food safety legislation “is going to make these challenges more acute and the need for change more urgent,” Acheson said in the report.

The new rules provide the FDA with increased enforcement authority, allowing it to step up inspections of food processors and giving it the power to mandate recalls of contaminated food. Much of the funding for the overhaul would go toward hiring about 2,000 new inspectors and increasing the number of inspections at farms and manufacturing plants.

Leading food companies already have updated safety plans, including sophisticated electronic systems in place to track contaminated products quickly, and some conduct mock recalls.

The Produce Traceability Initiative, for example, seeks to provide guidance to electronically track product, and some companies are using radio frequency identification tags.

“Companies that aspire to be market leaders can start by reviewing their food safety plans, training programs and supply chains, with an eye toward making improvements,” according to the report.

Food companies may need more stringent controls to avoid “unpleasant surprises,” the report said, with the biggest unknown being the safety of a company’s supply chain — especially with suppliers in countries where food safety laws or enforcement is weak.

“Today's globally extended supply chains mean that, unfortunately, contamination can turn up in more products and more often than in the past,” said Carter Pate, head of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ global government and infrastructure teams.

“With the new legislation, food companies at every level will be required to develop and document food safety plans that identify and prevent hazards at each facility,” Pate said.