A government minister has said families could save money from their squeezed budgets if they stopped needlessly throwing away "enormous amounts of food" because they don't know how to keep fresh produce.
Richard Benyon, a Conservative minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, says this could save some households up to £50 a month.
Mr Benyon said many people had little idea how to keep fruit and vegetables or cheese fresh in the fridge, and urged families to eat their leftovers and pay more attention to the storage instructions.
He also said new targets were being drawn up with the food industry to reduce food waste by 2015.
Economists have already warned that families are suffering an unprecedented squeeze on living standards because food prices are rising faster than wages.
On Thursday official figures showed that the economy narrowly avoided triple-dip recession in the first quarter of the year, growing by only 0.3 per cent. Food prices have risen by 3.7 per cent over the past year and the cost of staples like potatoes has jumped by more than half since 2005.
Mr Benyon told a debate at Westminster: “We all know that we ought to be wasting much less food.”
“Food wasted means fewer pounds in our pocket. Household bills are squeezed at the moment and we have the opportunity through a variety of different agencies to inform people better about where their food comes from and how to use it most economically.”
The total cost of wasted food has been estimated at £12 billion per year, “which is about £50 a month for the average family”, he said.
“Keeping most fruit in the fridge in its packaging can keep it fresher for a week or more, but around 60 per cent of us take fruit out of the packaging, and more than 70 per cent of us do not store it in the fridge.
"Re-closing packs of cheese and sliced meats helps to stop them drying out in the fridge, but 13 per cent of us apparently store such food unwrapped in the fridge.”
Mary Creagh MP, Shadow Environment Secretary, said:“Mums struggling to feed their families don't need lectures on wrapping cheese from a Tory Government which has created a cost of living crisis with its failed economic plan.
“People are cutting back on food, eating less fresh meat, fruit and vegetables and foodbanks can barely cope. This out of touch government's response to the cost of living crisis is condescension and a tax cut for millionaires."
Michael Dugher, vice-chairman of the Labour Party, said: “So this Tory minister’s answer to rising poverty is basically, 'Let them eat leftovers’. It’s another crass, patronising and out-of-touch lecture from a minister.”
And, Stephen McPartland, Conservative MP for Stevenage, said: “I don’t think it is right for the Government to preach to people who choose to purchase food and use that food.
“Nobody likes waste and families on low incomes often buy in bulk because it can be cheaper. No one in those families are wasting food intentionally.”