Sunday, October 23, 2011

Grocery Price Hikes Coming Soon

    A surprise jump in wholesale food prices in September is bad news for producers and retailers, but you won't feel it in your wallet. Yet. Producer prices — the amount farmers receive for their goods from manufacturers — rose by 6.9% compared to September 2010 or 0.8% on the month, the U.S. Labor Department said Tuesday. Wholesale prices — those paid by retailers — increased by an annual 2.5%; the biggest rise since June 2009. Worse, higher food prices aren't limited to a particular food group. U.S. wholesale prices rose across the board due to the rise in energy costs and commodities like grain and coffee. Fresh and dry vegetable prices soared by 10% on the year last month; beef and veal prices rose by 5.4%.
    Analysts say supermarkets will start passing price increases onto consumers slowly and quietly. "Most retailers have been reluctant to raise prices up until now and have eaten up the higher raw material costs," says Michael Keara, an equity analyst for Morningstar. "But they will start." Although food commodity prices have been climbing steadily this year, grocery stores have held off because they don't want to scare price sensitive customers. However, expect to see supermarket prices edging up in six to nine months, he says.
    Consumers watching their wallets may also want to keep a closer eye on package sizes for their favorite foods. Keara says the jumps in wholesale and producer costs are so high that manufacturers are likely to cut quantity as a way of disguising price hikes. In other words, start making a note of how many ounces you get in your six-pack of your favorite granola bars. "They don't want to shock consumers," he says, noting that increases over 5% hurts sales volumes.
    Shopping experts are already advising consumers to stock up, track expiration dates and freeze perishables. "Shoppers are shopping less frequently, twice per month," says Nick Dellis, a spokesman for online grocery list site Stephanie Nelson, founder of, which advises consumers on the best coupon-clipping strategies and deals, suggests buying chicken at the end of its two-week sale cycle and freezes it. Buying chicken at $2 a pound or half price saves her $450 a year.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Laundry Savings

This will be a small diversion since laundry would not seem to have a connection with the cost of food.  I'm including this posting though because most of us buy our laundry supplies at the grocery store.  Others buy theirs at bulk stores like Costco, Sam's Club, etc.  Since I buy my laundry detergent at the grocery store it does have a direct impact on my grocery bill.  Every once in a while I must buy laundry soap.

So here are a few hints on how to save money on your laundry soap and then use that money to buy food.
  • Buy store brands. Name brand detergents are usually more expensive than store brand equivalents, even though both do the same job.Watch for sales though and carefully compare prices.
  • Get powdered. Powered laundry soaps generally cost far less than the liquid variety. They are more compact, since there is no added water, and the containers are usually cardboard, which is cheaper than the plastic bottles liquid soaps come in. To avoid powdery residue on your clean wash, be sure to partially fill your washing machine with water and soap before adding your laundry. This method also helps liquefy the detergent powder more evenly into your wash.
  • Add baking soda. Re-use the baking soda from your fridge (or old, out of date stuff from your cupboard) and toss it into your wash. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer and improves the soap's washing ability. Just add a quarter cup to your washing machine’s rinse cycle to use as a fabric softener and odor remover. You can pre-treat spots before putting clothes into the wash by making a paste from baking soda and water.
  • Add white vinegar.  Full strength white vinegar is an excellent cleaning aid for neutralizing germs, bacteria, and molds. Along with baking soda, vinegar helps to deodorize your smelly items like well-worn socks and under garments.
There are lots of ways to save money on laundry besides the laundry soap but I'm not addressing that here.  Here are a few tricks I use in addition to the tips above:

Most people use more laundry soap than is really needed.  Do this test.  Take your bed linens and put them in the wash as you normally would except skip the laundry soap; just run them through in plain water.  Let the washing cycle begin but open the lid and stop the agitation cycle after it has been running for 2-3 minutes.  Take a look at the water.  Are there bubbles or white foam on top of the water?  Generally there will be some.  This is because of a combination of adding too much laundry soap and not running a good rinse cycle.  What I have found is that I can use 1/4 of the normal laundry soap when I wash lightly soiled clothes and sheets all the time or every other time because of the residual soap left behind in the fabric.  I don't do this with towels, wash cloths, socks, or underwear but for everything else it works fine.

I segregate my clothes into whites and colors like most everyone else does but I also separate heavily soiled clothes from clothes that have just been worn long enough to need laundering. Lightly soiled clothes such as outer shirts, pants, pajamas, and bed linen don't need a whole lot of cleaning to begin with and just a little soap goes a long way.  The more heavily soiled clothes get special treatment.  I load the washer and add 1/2 to 3/4 of the recommended amount of laundry detergent (depending how dirty the clothes are) and start the washing cycle.  I let it go to the agitation cycle but then stop it after 1-2 minutes and let it set and soak for 5-10 minutes.  Then I let it agitate again for 1-2 minutes and stop it again to soak for up to ten minutes.  Then I let it run as normal.  Running the washer in this way gets my clothes cleaner with less detergent.

Where I live the liquid detergent is the same price or less than powdered detergent so that is what I use.  Most liquid detergent bottles now have that no spill inner spout like in this picture.  Those are great for limiting spills and messes from detergent running down the side of the bottle.  But they also make it nearly impossible to get all the product out of the bottle and that creates waste and costs extra money.  I have two cures for that problem.  The first is to use as much of the detergent as you can get out in the normal way.  Once you can't pour any more out there is about 1/4 to 1/2 of a measure of the product trapped in the bottle.  I will hold the bottle under the running water (filling the washer) and swoosh it around and pour it out.  I have to do this 5-6 times until the liquid coming out of the container is mostly water.  I also rinse the cap under the running water.  This gets me one "free" load of laundry and cleans up my waste somewhat.  I recycle plastics here and now it is a rinsed and clean plastic bottle.

Method two is not always possible. After I get all the usable laundry detergent out of a bottle I try to remove the inner pour spout with a pair of pliers if it is possible.  Usually it is possible but not always; some are glued in place. 

Once the pour spout is removed you can add water during the washer's "Fill" cycle and rinse out a usable measure of detergent for a lightly soiled load of laundry. I completely rinse out the bottle, the inner pour spout, and the bottle cap.  Again, this gives me one "Free" load of laundry and cleans up my recycle material for better ecology.  

These are simple things to do to save money at the grocery store, which can then be used to purchase more or better food. It takes very little effort and pays off pretty well in the long term.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Peanut butter prices about to soar due to poor harvest

The PB&J: Classic. Comforting. And, with peanut prices skyrocketing, soon to be more costly. After searingly hot weather devastated the summer crop of Runner peanuts, the variety mostly used to make peanut butter, raw peanuts that cost about $450 a ton in 2010 now cost $1,150 a ton, according to USDA figures.
The crunch will affect the 90% of U.S. households that consume peanut butter — Americans eat about 1.5 million pounds of peanut products annually. The industry, according to the National Peanut Board, contributes more than $4 billion to the domestic economy each year.

High prices are expected to trickle down to consumers soon. J.M. Smucker Co.’s Jif will boost wholesale prices 30% this fall, according to the Wall Street Journal. Unilever’s Skippy brand will see a 35% increase while ConAgra Foods Inc.’s Peter Pan label will jump nearly 25%.

I went out and bought five 28 oz jars of Peanut Butter on sale for $2.49 each.  I'll watch prices and pick up some more later.  I eat a jar every two weeks or less.  Peanut Butter is a big part of my diet; it is the cheapest form of quality protein on the market.  But maybe not for too much longer.  Get some now before the prices go up.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Soup from Scraps

Once the weather gets colder I like to clean out the freezer and fridge to make a batch of soup.  It is in the mid-forties, dark, windy, with intermittent rain. Sounds like a good day for soup to me.  I buy two items as my base for vegetable beef soup; a can of beef broth and a can of diced tomatoes.  Most everything else is leftovers from the freezer and fridge.

I live in The Netherlands where the electric grid is 220 volt but my crock pot is 110v so I needed a step-down transformer to use my crock pot.  Recently I was given a 2,000 watt transformer so I can finally use the slow cooker to make soup.  I went through the freezer to see what I had and did end up buying a couple additional items, not needed but wanted for flavor and nutrition.

Here is what went into my soup today:
$0.89 - 1 x 14.5 oz can beef broth
$0.75 - 1 x 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
$0.31 - 1 x  large potato
$0.27 - 2 x small parsnips
$0.25 - four inches of a large leek; diced
$0.35 - one cup of mixed dried beans ($1.89 a bag)
$2.29 - 0.89 lbs of diced beef (bought from the half-priced self)
$0.00 - two large plasticware containers of beef gravy and drippings from previous meals
$0.00 - three clusters of broccoli leftover from a garlic chicken stir fry
$0.00 - 3/4 cup of mixed vegetables leftover from previous meals
Seasoned with 1/2 teaspoon of Wrights Hickory Seasoning (Liquid Smoke), Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, Cavender's All Purpose Greek Seasoning.

This will stay in the crock pot for 6-8 hours and will make just a little less than one gallon of soup for $5.11.  I will eat this over the next couple days with a roll for a nutritious, satisfying meal for about $1.00-$1.25 a meal.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Threats to Your Food Supply - Food Borne Illnesses

Federal Agencies Falling Short
in Protecting U.S. Food Supply

FDA-regulated goods are up 200 percent in a decade, but the agency inspects only about 2 percent of all imported food.
By Max Levy and Mattea Kramer

     Federal agencies entrusted with the safety of the nation’s food supply routinely fail to prevent bacteria-infected food from reaching grocery stores and restaurants, putting millions of Americans at risk. A months-long News21 investigation found that food safety in the U.S. depends on ineffective regulations and underfunded government agencies that lack the authority to protect consumers.
    Each year, one in six Americans — 48 million people — gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from food borne diseases, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just this year, contaminated hazelnuts, cantaloupe, bologna, sprouts, papayas and two types of turkey all have caused outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella illnesses in the U.S. And this month, the CDC reported that 17 people died as a result of listeria food poisoning from eating cantaloupes produced at Jensen Farms in Granada, Colo. Altogether, more than 80 people in 19 states were stricken, according to the CDC.
    The salmonella-contaminated cantaloupes and papayas were grown in Latin America and represent an increasing threat of food borne illness from imported products as foreign countries provide 60 percent of all fruits and vegetables eaten in the U.S. Altogether, food imports have quadrupled over the past decade. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration expects 24 million shipments of goods for which it is responsible to pass through the nation’s more than 300 ports of entry this year, up from 6 million a decade ago. The agency uses a risk-based system to isolate foods with high risk of contamination, but physically inspects only about 2 percent of all imported food.
     Seafood poses a particularly great risk, as imports account for 80 percent of all seafood eaten in the U.S. Much of it comes from China and Thailand, where regulations often fall short of American standards.
Every year, nearly three million Americans get sick from harmful bacteria in meat and poultry, according to research from the University of Florida. Feces often contaminate these foods with salmonella and E. coli during slaughter and end up in what people eat. According to a 2009 FDA study, one out of every five chicken breasts for sale in grocery stores is infected with salmonella.
    Most of the meat and poultry Americans eat is produced in the U.S., where the U.S. Department of Agriculture is responsible for its safety. But farms where animals are raised aren’t inspected at all.
USDA inspectors are on-site at every slaughtering facility, where they eyeball carcasses for microscopic pathogens passing by at up to 35 chickens a minute. Yet the USDA had to recall nearly 9 million pounds of already-inspected, contaminated meat and poultry in 2010 alone. Meat and poultry companies design and enforce their own safety procedures. The USDA approves the procedures and inspectors check the paperwork to make sure companies follow the rules they set for themselves.
    But the system of self-regulation fails to make safety a priority, according to Timothy Pachirat, an assistant professor of politics at The New School in New York who spent five months undercover in a Nebraska slaughterhouse in 2004. His research revealed workers falsifying paperwork and lying to federal inspectors.
A new law requires facilities that pack or process produce to develop their own safety plans and submit them to the FDA for approval. The FDA already requires similar plans for seafood and juice processors, but violators receive the agency’s most common form of enforcement: a warning letter. The News21 analysis found that between September 2009 and December 2010, the FDA failed to close out well over half the warning letters issued, which means that no one verified that the offending seafood and juice companies had actually improved their safety practices.
    Critics of the FDA like Carol Tucker-Foreman, distinguished fellow in food policy at the Consumer Federation of America, asserts that the warning letters are not an effective enforcement tool. “The FDA,” she said, “is under the illusion that sending someone a warning letter makes a difference. If they just send them out there and don’t follow up, then no action is taken to protect public health.” The FDA, however, views their warning letters as a strong first step in its arsenal of enforcement actions. The warning letter, said FDA spokesman Doug Karas, “is in itself an enforcement tool.” And once a company receives notice of a violation, “the vast majority of firms do take corrective action,” he said. Equally important, the fact that a warning letter has not been closed out, said Karas, could mean that a re-inspection has not taken place or that the agency has initiated more stringent enforcement actions, such as requesting an injunction or a seizure.
    Despite the differing perspectives of the critics and the FDA, former FDA officials like David Acheson, the one-time FDA associate commissioner of foods, say that federal regulations — even without the resources to fully enforce them — are better than no regulation at all. In January 2011, Congress gave hefty new responsibilities to the FDA when it passed the Food Safety Modernization Act. But the U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget this summer that would cut FDA funding by nearly 12 percent, jeopardizing implementation of the first major update to food safety regulation in more than 70 years. The act gives the FDA authority to shut down companies that don’t respond to its warnings. It also increases the number of overseas inspections by the FDA 30-fold over the next six years — a goal that will be “impossible … without a substantial increase in resources or a complete overhaul in the way it operates,” according to a July 2011 FDA report.
    Representative Jack Kingston, R-Ga., who chairs the House subcommittee that allots funds to the FDA and USDA, favors cutting funds for food safety enforcement. He said that the American food supply is 99.99 percent safe — a statistic based on the probability of getting sick from a single meal. Meanwhile, more than 130,000 people are sickened by a food borne illness each day on average. Researchers say that keeping food safe takes hard work and that it’s expensive to ensure that nothing, or very little, goes wrong. Food companies, meanwhile, are looking for ways to deliver inexpensive products to consumers — and improve profit margins — by keeping costs low. The News21 investigation revealed that farmers can spend two-tenths of a penny per dozen eggs on voluntary safety measures to reduce salmonella in eggs, yet many farmers choose not to do so.
    Last year, the FDA made such measures mandatory for the first time, though in the year since the rules went into effect, the agency has checked up on fewer than 50 farms nationally — out of 600 farms with more than 50,000 hens — due to limited staffing, agency records show. And small produce farms, which provide food to local farmers markets, are exempt from regulation under the Food Safety Modernization Act , despite a lack of evidence suggesting their food is safer than large growers’. Those farms are still allowed to sell nearly half of their produce to wholesalers who can distribute it nationally.
    When federal regulators fail to prevent unsafe food from entering the marketplace, state and local health departments provide a last line of defense, but insufficient resources can prevent them from being effective. For example, in Rhode Island, where seven health inspectors are responsible for more than 8,000 food establishments, a bakery sickened 78 people in March 2011 with pastries stored in salmonella-tainted egg crates, hospitalizing 28 and killing two.
    Different practices among state health departments put residents of the worst performing states at risk and undermine national surveillance of outbreaks, allowing some to go undetected.  In September, the FDA launched a food borne outbreak network to work with states and streamline the previously fragmented coordination within the agency.
    When ineffective practices fail to detect food borne disease outbreaks and response is slow, nobody knows why people get sick or what food to blame. Of the food borne outbreaks the public health system does catch, more than half of the investigations go unsolved, allowing more people to be sickened and the contaminated food to remain on the market.