USDA officials predict the cost of retail food will continue to rise slightly for the rest of the year. By year end, officials estimate the total increase in food cost will be about 3.5 percent above year ago prices.

What’s behind the price increase? Surging oil prices this summer started off the increase. Then disruptions by Hurricanes Katrina to U.S. refineries and oil production platforms in the GulfCoast region and crop damage have added to the upward trend. (Last week’s forecast did not include information from the aftermath of Hurricane Rita.)

Fresh fruits and vegetables are the food category seeing the largest increase in price -- about 6 percent. Meat prices have held steady and dairy prices have decreased slightly.

During the past decade the rise in food prices has averaged about 2.5 percent per year.

Earlier USDA projections had estimated the increase in the price of food would fall between 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent. Events of the past few months now have analysts predicting the increase will be closer to the high end.