WASHINGTON — The overall Consumer Price Index rose 0.5% in March to 223.5, its second consecutive month of a 0.5% gain, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the Dept. of Labor. With the gain, the index now has increased 2.7% over the past 12 months. The index for food and beverages also finished higher, rising 0.7% to 225.3 in March after rising 0.5% in both February and January.

In addition to food and beverages, the energy index again provided strength, rising 3.5% in March after climbing 3.4% in February. The index has now increased for nine months in a row, rising 23.7% since June 2010. The index for gasoline rose 5.6% and the index for fuel oil increased 6.2% during March.

The food index rose 0.8% in March after climbing 0.6% in February and 0.5% in January, and all six major grocery store food groups posted increases during March.

The sharpest gain again was posted in the index for fruits and vegetables, which followed up a 2.2% increase in February by rising 1.9% in March to 289.9. Fresh vegetables rose 4.7% during the month after climbing 6.7% during February. The BLS said indexes for potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes all posted significant increases.

The dairy and related products index increased 1.3% to 206.2, while the index for meats, poultry, fish and eggs also was sharply higher, rising 1.1% to 218.8.

The index for food at home rose 1.1% to 223.2, while the index for nonalcoholic beverages rose 0.8% to 164.3.

The index for cereals and bakery products, which finished flat in February, increased 0.5% to 255.4 in March.

The index for food away from home rose 0.3% in March, its largest increase since September, and has risen 1.9% over the past 12 months.