How do I give my Au Pair autonomy in the kitchen without worrying that my kids are going to eat something that could make them sick?
Dear AuPairMoms — I need to find ways to teach my au pairs about food safety, without offending them. Any ideas? Here’s my story:
AP1: Raw Bacon
My son was bright enough to realize that there was “something not right with the Bacon”. He found my husband and said that he thought we should look at the breakfast she was making. It turns out AP thought it was cured meat that just had a strange texture. It was something we laughed about later but at the time I thought, “how could I have ever imagined this so I could prevent it? and, “thank goodness my 5 year old said something!”
AP2: Raw, Unpasteurized Eggs in a Refrigerator Cake
I came home to find AP2 happily mixing a cake for the family. How nice, I thought. Then I realized she was putting the cake in the refrigerator and had no plans to cook it.
This cake contained several raw eggs. I asked if she had purchased pasteurized eggs. Crickets. She had no idea what I meant. I then explained pasteurization and that unpasteurized eggs carry a risk of salmonella if uncooked. I showed her via internet what the label on container of pasteurized eggs looks like vs. the standard. She was devastated because she had used her own money to buy the ingredients, which included expensive chocolate. I was breathing a sigh of relief that I had averted possible disaster by asking a pertinent question. (I did show her how to turn the refrigerator cake into a somewhat decent chocolate mousse).
AP3: Milk Left Out On Counter For Four Days to Make “Cheese”
Our AP wanted to make a special dish from her home country that required a particular type of cheese which was made by leaving milk on the counter for four days. When I asked our AP about the large bowl of milk sitting on the countertop, she explained that she was making cheese for us.
I asked about the process. When she explained it would be four days on the countertop, I asked if she had added anything to the milk, like an acid or a yeast? She said no. I tried to explain that milk purchased in a grocery store in the US is pasteurized and is not suitable for making cheese. I explained that she could consider adding buttermilk, or could maybe do a web search for ideas on how to make or find the cheese in the US.
I explained that dairy left at room temperature for several days could make us all very sick. She became very upset and said that her family had been doing this for years and they were all fine. I told her that might be true but I can’t allow her to use this method in my home. She became very angry. (We eventually rematched for this attitude among other things). I didn’t like that something that should have been a thoughtful sharing of culture turned into a confrontation.
And once again, I found myself wondering if I could have done something to prevent the whole situation entirely. Or if there was a different way to handle it in the moment?
Since there have been food safety issues with all three of our AP’s, I worry that there will be a time when I won’t discover the risk before it’s too late.
These are three women of different ages, from different countries, all of whom had some critical lack of knowledge when it came to food safety. Is there some way to address this in advance? Add these incidents to others, such as not washing hands after handling raw meat or eggs, using the same cutting board for raw and cooked foods, storing foods unwrapped in the refrigerator, and more, and I’m starting to feel a bit paranoid about giving the Au Pairs too much freedom in the kitchen. Am I overreacting?
I’d love to get the thoughts and advice of the other HM’s and HD’s out there!
Needle-felted pig from ClaudiaMarieFelt, available for purchase on Etsy