Householders are to be visited by officials offering advice on cooking with leftovers, in a Government initiative to reduce the amount of food that gets thrown away. Home cooks will also be told what size portions to prepare, taught to understand "best before" dates and urged to make more use of their freezers.
The door-to-door campaign, which starts tomorrow, will be funded by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a Government agency charged with reducing household waste.The officials will be called "food champions". However, they were dismissed last night as "food police" by critics who called the scheme an example of "excessive government nannying".
In an initial seven-week trial, eight officials will call at 24,500 homes, dishing out advice and recipes. The officials, each of whom has received a day's training, will paid up to £8.49 an hour, with a bonus for working on Saturdays.The pilot scheme, which will cost £30,000, could be extended nationwide if it is seen as a success. If all 25 million households in the UK were visited in the same way, 8,000 officials would be required at a cost of tens of millions of pounds.
Peter Ainsworth, the shadow environment secretary, said: "You might have thought, at a time of economic hardship, that spending public money on stating the obvious is hardly a priority. With household budgets under pressure, most people are looking to spend wisely and waste less anyway."
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance said: "This is a prime example of excessive Government nannying, and a waste of public money and resources. In the grip of a recession, the last thing people need is someone bossing them about in their own kitchen. "Worse still, the money for this scheme will come directly out of taxpayers' pockets, at a time when they need every penny to weather the financial storm."
The project is part of WRAP's "Love Food Hate Waste" campaign, which has so far cost £4 million. The organisation says food waste has a significant environmental impact, in terms of the carbon generated to grow, transport and package items and the cost of having to dispose of them. It has calculated that stopping food waste could reduce the annual emission of carbon dioxide by 18 million tonnes - the same effect as taking one in five cars off the roads.
The "food champions", who will be employed by a private contractor, will advise householders to plan their shopping carefully so that they do not over-cater. They will explain the difference between "best before", "use by" and "sell by" dates, and will give out tips for home composting.In addition to knocking on doors, the officials will leave a leaflet at every address they call at. The scheme will initially cover six council areas in Worcestershire and Herefordshire.
Local councillors have already questioned the project. Fran Oborski, a councillor in Wyre Forest, Worcestershire, said: "Although this will create jobs in a time of recession, I would have thought that there are far more important things for people to be doing."Julia Falcon, from WRAP, said: "A number of councils want to support our Love Food Hate Waste campaign. We selected Herefordshire and Worcestershire to test the door-to-door aspect. We want to test it thoroughly and get feedback. In the scheme of things, this is a fairly modest cost to the taxpayer to test this approach.
"There is a benefit to residents, because if they can cut back on what they throw in the bin, they will make a personal saving. A lot of the advice seems common sense but our research has shown that not everyone heeds it. People are confused by date labels and end up throwing out food while it is still in date."According to WRAP, the average family wastes around £600 of food per year.Tim Burns, from Waste Watch - the contractor carrying out the scheme for WRAP - said: "Food waste has such a high impact on climate change and it is something we can all do something about."
He defended the amount of paper that would be used by the 24,500 leaflets produced by the scheme.