U.S. food prices are set to rise as much as 4 percent this year, the biggest increase in 14 years, due to rising prices for beef, milk and fresh vegetables, according to USDA. For perspective, food prices increased 2.2 percent in 2003 and 1.8 percent in 2002.

A big factor in this year's price rise is beef, which increased as much as 11 percent, due partly to consumers adopting low-carbohydrate and high-protein diets. U.S. consumers also are paying more for pork products. Fourth-quarter retail pork prices are expected to average in the high $2.80s per pound, about 7 percent above 2003 levels. Still, a much better buy than beef.

Milk, dairy products, and eggs rose by as much as 8 percent. Fresh vegetables prices rose by as much as 4 percent in 2004 because of weather issues in Florida and California.

Another factor affecting food prices, USDA says, is record-high gasoline and diesel fuel used to transport goods to market.

Pork Alert