Editor's note: This is the first in a new monthly series comparing food prices collected at four major county grocery chains with regional and national figures.

Food prices for the Baltimore region -- which includes Carroll -- have increased 1.4 percent since November, the Consumer Price Index shows.

From November to January, the percentage increases for four food groups were:

* Cereal and bakery products -- 2.7 percent.

* Meat, poultry, fish and eggs -- 1.9 percent.

* Dairy products -- 1.2 percent.

* Fruits and vegetables -- 0.5 percent.

"Food at home"prices rose 2.3 percent from November to January and prices for "food away from home" decreased 0.3 percent, the index shows.

Despite the increases, food and beverage prices have risen only 1 percent since January 1991, the index shows.

The index is compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics in Philadelphia and was released last week.

Beginning this month, The Carroll CountySun will run a chart comparing food prices collected at four major county grocery chains with prices collected by the bureau.

Prices were collected on the same day in January at Giant Food, which has a store in Westminster; SuperFresh, with stores in Eldersburg and Westminster; Weis market, with stores in Hampstead and Westminster and George's IGA, with stores in Eldersburg, Finksburg and Woodbine.

The survey shows that the average cost of 20 food items in the county lastmonth was 34 cents lower than the U.S. city average for the same items.

A grocery basket filled with the 20 items listed in the chart cost an average of $27.15 in Carroll. The same 20 items cost an average of $27.46 in cities nationwide.

The average cost of the items in Carroll also compares closely to the average cost in the region.

Regional numbers listed in the chart are for the South. The Labor Department includes Maryland in the South when gathering statistics, regional economist Maureen McDevitt Greene said.

In the South, a basket filled with 19 items (peanut butter is not priced by the bureau in the South) would cost an average of $24.10. The same basket in Carroll would cost an average of $25.01.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects and compiles prices on food items monthly, Greene said.

Before collecting the prices, the bureau surveys consumers to find out what they buy and where they buy it, she said. Economists then usestatistical techniques to select the items they will price.

They choose a mixture of name brands and generics as a typical consumer would do and collect prices once a month at 20 different stores, Greenesaid.

Prices for January are available in late February.

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