Autonomy vs. Food Safety When The Au Pair Cooks

by cv harquail on February 21, 2014

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:

claudie marieAP1: 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!

~ OpinionatedHM


Needle-felted pig from ClaudiaMarieFelt, available for purchase on Etsy


SwissAuPair February 21, 2014 at 2:43 pm

It’s not about food safety, it is about different culture of food. I’ve never seen “pasteurized” eggs in my homecountry, and actually I had to use google to find out why it is done. I usually buy eggs from a local farm and the milk as well (fresh milk). So sorry for heaving a natural-fresh lifestyle in my homecountry and for not knowing what other people in other countries do to make food “better”. Maybe you should think about using fresh food. Fresh from Nature, not from the Supermarket. I’m much more scared about GM-Food.

Dorsi February 21, 2014 at 2:54 pm

You are not sorry, you are petulant. You may need to look that up as well. This is not the tone that this blog typically uses, so you should spend some time reading and see how you can be a constructive contributor.

Karen February 21, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Well said. SwissAuPair – you don’t represent Swiss folks well. That’s really judgmental, superior, and righteous – I wouldn’t want that bad attitude around my family.

midwest aupair February 21, 2014 at 4:28 pm

I see where you’re coming from, I am from Switzerland as well, but i do not understand why your response sounded so angry. I think the Mom’s here look for opinions, and Au pair insight can be very helpful if it is stated with respect. The US is different, and as someone already said, it could have been very dangerous if the little boy would have eaten that raw bacon etc. I think this issue is avoidable with communication. If the bacon isn’t precooked, write a note on it. Better to much than too little. What you also have to consider is, that Switzerland is small, and we get our fresh food from our local farms etc. The US is so much bigger and therefore transport is much more complicated. I wish the US would have less GM-foods, but that’s just how it is. We are guest here, and we are here to learn. Hopefully you find some good Swiss-fondue at a world market or something:)

OpinionatedHM February 21, 2014 at 7:41 pm

Thank you, SwissAuPair, for giving the perfect example of why I wrote to AuPairMom for advice on how to handle this topic without triggering a defensive response like yours.
The Au Pair program is meant to foster cultural exchange. It seems that you have preconceived ideas about the American diet, certainly about my diet, that are inaccurate. I hope you will benefit from the program and end your year with a better understanding of the variety of the American diet.
On the topic of Genetically Modified Foods, you might benefit from some research on the complexities of providing a consistent, nutritious food supply to a large population. You might consider reading a recent article by Peter Singer, a professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, on the topic of golden rice. Golden rice was developed by Swiss scientists to address vitamin A deficiency.
Best wishes to you as you learn and grow with the Au Pair program.

Dorsi February 21, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Wow. That was so much more tactful than my response!

Momma Gadget February 21, 2014 at 10:44 pm


OpinionatedHM February 21, 2014 at 10:54 pm

Where’s that “like” button when I need it!

Old China Hand February 21, 2014 at 9:31 pm

I bring up golden rice every time people get anti GMO in my super liberal town! Great thing it is (golden rice, of course).

WestMom February 22, 2014 at 12:56 pm

In defense of Swiss Au Pair, this is a cultural difference. Let’s not forget that we are probably the most ‘safety-conscious’ country on the planet, and some of our habits might seem over the top for people from other countries. It is completely acceptable to teach and expect Au Pairs to follow our safety rules in our homes, but it doesn’t mean we will change their opinion of what they find to be ‘normal’…

OpinionatedHM February 22, 2014 at 4:22 pm

I think you’ve brought up a good point WestMom, this idea that anyone is trying to change another person’s idea of “normal”.
I think that is a fear of many Au Pair’s when they come to the US. The fear that they will somehow become corrupted by American culture, especially American FOOD culture. I’m not trying to change anyone’s idea of normal. I’m telling them what is normal in my house. And I’ve lived in 8 states and spent time in 12 others, I can say with confidence that “normal” is different all across the US. I think that’s the whole point of the Au Pair program – learning the normal of a Host family in the US. Each Au Pair will have a different experience of what is normal in the US because each Host Family will be different, each city is different, each state is different. An Au Pair has signed on to live someone else’s “normal” for one year.
AP1 and AP2 were open to my explanations about why they should do things my way and why the third was offended. AP1 and AP2 were here to learn about the US and did not think that different meant better or worse. AP3 thought anything we asked her to do that was different than how she did it at home was a criticism of her country and a repudiation of her “normal”.
My husband is from another country. When we visit his family, we do things their way. I do ask a lot of questions though, because I like to know the “why” of things. Because I am LEARNING HIS CULTURE. I never feel that my way of doing things in the US is being criticised when I am told to do things differently in his country. There is a reason we do things differently. If I don’t agree with how things are done in my In-law’s house, it’s my job to do my research and come up with a valid, fact based reason to disagree. And I would never do this unless I felt there was a serious risk to my children’s health. (Using Carseats is a great example of this.) I respect their traditions because I know that somewhere they are rooted in fact and science, even if they can’t articulate the reasons why they do what they do. That’s their normal, and when I am in their house, it’s my normal too. Normal is relative.

TexasHM February 21, 2014 at 2:56 pm

SwissAuPair I don’t think the OP was insinuating that her lifestyle was superior and I think everyone would agree that fresh food is best but unfortunately, she is right in these scenarios that eating those things would have been very dangerous, quite possibly fatal.
I would love to hear more about this as well because we have had several minor things – attempting to thaw frozen meat on the counter at room temperature I saw right away and explained how to thaw in fridge or microwave, containers left open in the fridge (cross contamination and dries it out), but I will be honest that I eat raw cookie dough and lick the brownie mix bowl like its going out of style and I have made refrigerator desserts with regular eggs so maybe I am not the best one to comment on this topic! :)

German Au-Pair February 22, 2014 at 10:22 am

Um, I’m not sure if there can be such a thing like overly safe but sometimes I think Americans tend to be just that. We have honestly never thawed (it’s not irregular, right?) meat any other way than by taking it out of the freezer and letting it sit for several hours or even over night. Any kind of frozen food really. Of course not when it’s super hot but that never happens in air conditioned American homes…
It wouldn’t even have occured to me that that might be considered a problem…

Dorsi February 21, 2014 at 2:58 pm

I have a lot to say on this topic, but will have to come back later. One simple thing I do is store unopened things in the refrigerator that will need to be refrigerated. (Specifically, mayonnaise. I have had a very hard time clarifying why it can live in the pantry some days but not on the counter when it is opened. I have thrown away a lot of mayonnaise).

I let my kids eat raw eggs — cookie dough, eggs over easy, etc. I think that is highly culturally dependent. If you don’t, it is probably fair to write that down somewhere, when you write what the kids may and may not eat.

OpinionatedHM February 22, 2014 at 10:51 am

I love this idea Dorsi. In the interest of conserving space in my refrigerator, I’m wondering if maybe I should just put a sign in the pantry that says anything in here must be refrigerated after opening. Our last AP left after just two months (our first rematch). Over the next few days, I found jars of spaghetti sauce, capers, pickles, tapenade, and other items that had been opened and put back on the shelf. It was a total mystery to me until my husband suggested that our AP had maybe been curious about the food and was opening it and looking at it and then putting it back on the shelf, not realizing it needed to be refrigerated. I have to admit, it was painful having to throw away all that food. Especially the things I had grown and preserved myself. That AP is the main reason I wrote for advice. I don’t want to have to go through that again!

spanishaupair February 21, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Even SwissAuPair wrote it in not a very nice way, I agree that good part is cultural food, I have never heard about pasteurize eggs for example, and dairy milk is something i have discovered in Ireland and has surprised me, in Spain we use another one that you can keep for very long without opening instead of having to buy the bottle every few days.
I think maybe bring it as part of the training, explain the aupairs how food works in USA, safety tips and use it as part of the cultural exchange

Should be working February 21, 2014 at 5:59 pm

For the record, I’ve never heard of pasteurized eggs either. But in Europe I’ve seen that they don’t store raw eggs in the refrigerator at all at the grocery store.

OpinionatedHM February 21, 2014 at 9:30 pm

Most people don’t know about pasteurized eggs. The eggs we buy in the store are usually unpasteurized. Pasteurized eggs are more expensive and are intended for use in recipes that will be eaten without being fully cooked or for people with compromised immune systems who want to avoid the risk associated with unpasteurized eggs. I think they were probably meant for the restaurant industry, but have become more widely available in grocery stores to meet rising demand.
My husband is not American, and he is from a country where eggs are not refrigerated. Eggs do not need to be refrigerated, but it shortens the shelf life considerably. If I recall, its something like 1 day at room temperature equals 1 week refrigerated. The expiration date on eggs is just a recommendation. If you want to know if your egg is fresh, put it in a bowl of water. If it floats, throw it away.

Should be working February 22, 2014 at 1:51 am

Wow, I never heard of the float test, thanks! My husband was so impressed to learn from me the spin-test for if an egg is boiled, but that’s all I know.

spanishaupair February 22, 2014 at 5:15 am

Thanks for the explanation about pasteurized eggs, never heard about them.
And thanks for the tip about floating eggs, never heard about it but really handy :)

JJ Host Mom February 22, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Huge cultural difference: Europeans are not allowed to wash eggs, because it washes off the protective coating that keeps eggs shelf safe. By law, Americans do wash eggs, to get rid of bacteria on the shell.

Also note that in France, it’s considered fairly safe for pregnant women to eat unpastuerized cheese and drink limited amounts of wine. Not safe to eat salad, which might contain toxoplasmosis.

So with those two examples just want to illustrate that much of this is cultural differences that are as deeply ingrained as the laws of the country.

Old China Hand February 22, 2014 at 2:59 pm

I worked in a backcountry hut system in the US where we stored eggs out of the fridge because we didn’t have a choice. We cooked for guests and went through 25 lb boxes of eggs fairly quickly (a few days to a week at most). We kept the eggs in a cool place, usually the basement, but never ever refrigerated them. Similarly, in China we didn’t have space in our miniature fridge (that was being shared with half a preserved pig), so we kept the eggs on the counter. We only ever had one egg go bad and I was a bit paranoid about them after that, but just cracked them into a separate bowl so they didn’t contaminate anything if they were bad. I didn’t know about the protective coating until recently but it does make sense.

German Au-Pair February 22, 2014 at 8:31 pm

I suppose Americans would be horrified to find their supermarket eggs with poop on them :D
Just like I was bit confused why your potatos aren’t dirty.

Seattle Mom February 24, 2014 at 2:10 am

I had no idea about the protective coating on eggs.

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa and had no electricity, so I kept eggs out and it was H-O-T where I lived. But I would not buy eggs by the dozen- I would buy enough to last 2-3 days and they never went bad. And I’m sure they were much fresher than what I get here.

OpinionatedHM February 21, 2014 at 7:21 pm

I’ll give some personal background to hopefully eliminate misguided, but hopefully well intentioned, replies like the one from SwissAuPair. I have a culinary education. I also have nutrition education. I am certified in food safety in my state. I am also certified by my state to run a commercial kitchen. We have a garden in our backyard. We also have several fruit trees. We grow our produce using organic methods. What we don’t grow ourselves is supplemented by deliveries from local farms and shopping at our “big box” grocery store. We purchase grass fed meats from local ranches. We also receive fresh eggs and dairy from local farms. I use traditional canning methods to preserve what we can’t eat. We compost our scraps. I wrote to because I value the thoughts and opinions of the contributors to this site. I welcome all constructive advice on how to address this issue without triggering a defensive response like SwissAuPair’s.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 22, 2014 at 12:37 am

Food seems to be one of those trigger issues, doesn’t it. I think the best tact is to simply say, “One of the rules in this house is…” right from the start. You can even put the onus on you and say, “I know this may seem crazy to you, but…” Don’t try to make it an “American” thing, because there isn’t one. I’ve never purchased a pasturized egg – DH will only eat brown eggs. I love raw dough and licking the beater. I have a child who’s hooked up to a feeding pump for hours at a time. And the 3 second rule counts in my house. Have we ever had food poisoning? Yes, but very rarely (and unlike my mother, who ate potato salad because it didn’t smell THAT bad, we have never been sick for more than 24 hours). And we discovered, after living with a Chinese AP, that very wilted greens are really okay when stir fried – before that we would have automatically composted them.

That being said, if I were in your house and you had specific rules about food, I might roll my eyes, but I would follow them, and so should your AP. Be gentle when she encounters a rule you never considered making. “I know this okay in your country, but…” or “Your mother might do this all the time, but…” “I know you think I’m the bad guy here, but…”

Aupair-to be from UK February 21, 2014 at 8:50 pm

aupair –


OpinionatedHM you are definitely not overacting leving milk on the counter is big no-no and the raw meat the touching cooked meat without washing hands! What!?! These are massive common sense things! but it all depends where your AP is from!

In the UK we leave, meat on the top counter to defrost at room temprature, and certainly not put it in the microwave as people think that is a source of food poising even if on the special defrost button! I don’t think we have ‘pasturized’ eggs, just normal free range, and they are never stored in a fridge just on shelves, but at home we put them in the fridge so I just think its a cultural thing, obviously every where has a different way of living and you should just tell your aupairs straight up, to be aware of these things, I’ve heard alot of people on this blog which is absolutley fantastic may I add won’t tell there aupair anything that is wrong I case they hurt there feelings, honestly just tell them if there is a problem, you may hurt their feeling but better than getting food poisoning right?

TexasHM February 22, 2014 at 12:48 am

Knowing your background better OP and having lived in the UK a few months, I would tend toward an education angle (about the US). It’s not about her, or her country, it’s about here. Just like my mom telling me I slept on my stomach as a baby or that we didn’t wear seatbelts and I rode in the front seat all the time, things are different now and here and it doesn’t matter what they do or have there, they are living here and just like teaching your kids food safety you have to teach anyone that’s not familiar here. When I lived in the UK I asked what the unfamiliar foods were and how I should prepare things. I didn’t assume everything was the same in the US and it’s naive for anyone AP or not to assume the same.

Aussiemum February 22, 2014 at 6:04 am

Swiss au pairs answer is typical of a young over zealous proponent of a particular lifestyle. Hopefully she grows out of it and realises her way is not the only way. We have found our German au pairs have no concept of the speed food spoils in a hot climate, and lots are experimenting with cooking without mums oversight for the first time. They probably have life knowledge of German food safey rules, that’s their mothers job.

American Host Mom in Europe February 22, 2014 at 6:50 am

I’m American, but having lived — and grocery-shopped — in Europe (several countries) for 15 years, I’ll admit that food practices and requirements are very different, and my practices have changed. For instance, there is no salmonella in eggs in my country, and they are VERY careful about eggs and chickens here, so I do often leave eggs out a while and dat things with raw eggs…and an au pair coming from this country to the US (a common occurrence!) wouldn’t necessarily know that the raw egg practices here are unique. I also leave my butter on the counter year round (except on very hot days when it would melt), which I’m sure is unimaginable to most Americans. The point is that what is safe or commonly done really CAN vary widely by culture, and I think it is a good idea to cover such things in a handbook and as part of orientating someone. No, you can’t think of every contingency, but I often take my new au pairs through the kitchen, open the fridge and talk about what is there, what we keep there, etc. (mine are often American and i have to train them not to put the butter in the fridge!). I think this approach, perhaps in the context of preparing a meal together, would help to cover a lot if potential circumstances.

OpinionatedHM February 22, 2014 at 10:23 am

SpanishAuPair suggested making it part of training as well. We have a new AP arriving in a couple of weeks and I plan to add this to the orientation checklist. In the past, I’ve just dealt with it when a situation has come up. I’m now thinking that approach has led to a more emotional conversation than necessary. There’s the AP, happily cooking, and I roll in and tell her she’s doing something wrong. I haven’t been able to figure out how to address it in advance without seeming like I am making assumptions about what the AP knows about food safety. If I include it as part of orientation, I’ll be catching the AP at a time when she is most enthusiastic. It will also seem less personal about her and more about how we do things in our home. I’m also adding a section to the AP Manual. I’ll let you all know how it goes.

Seattle Mom February 24, 2014 at 2:16 am

Lol we leave our butter out.. it’s my husband’s thing. I thought he was crazy at first but now I just get angry at rock-hard butter from the fridge. We do keep it in the fridge in the summer. I guess our AP’s probably think that’s normal? I’m sure most of our friends who visit think something is wrong with us. They must think it has to do with my Peace Corps days… but we didn’t have butter in my village at all.

Skny February 22, 2014 at 8:39 am

I agree! And just because practices are different, do not think the Au pair doesn’t think the same of your family in one or more aspects. having lived in Another country there are some American practices that are considered VERY no-no as far as hygiene in my home country, that are routinely done here…
Examples would be: washing a baby in the kitchen sink (we use a baby tub on top of a board), placing animal pots in the dishwasher with human pots (doesn’t matter how much I explain to my mother the water temperature and all), mixing clothes and household things in the laundry, scrubbing any laundry in the bathroom or kitchen sink (we ALWAYS have a sink on laundry room for animal dishes, laundry, other items)…. List could go on and on…
Other big one is animals in a house. In many countries dogs are outdoor animals only. My mother would always ask why she had to take her shoes off when coming inside, but the dog would be in and out without worry.
And the way we clean? Other thing my mom and first time Au pairs find a joke. At home there is no such thing as a towel paper and cleaning products. Everything receives water and soap and scrub. To be honest, my house in my home country is much cleaner than my house. But I don’t usually realize it until I go home. The housecleaner spends 8hs a week. Everything is scrubbed. Now, floors are usually ceramic tiles, and there are spaces to evacuate water (not sure what to call it) on hallway, every bathroom. I love my housecleaner and could not live without her. And I usually think I have a clean house when she leaves. But I cannot in any way compare my bathroom with my moms. I bet that is why the ai pair complained her bathroom was not properly clean.
One last observation… When I was first Au pair in 2004, i arrived to first host family and was disgusted by the cleaning the housecleaner did (typical cleaning that is done in my home nowadays, 10ys later). So I naively re-cleaned the house (no way I could live in that dirty) and complained to my host mom (because she might not be aware of how terrible job that lady was doing. Well, she fired the cleaner and decided it was part of my job to clean (1. She really liked my cleaning, 2. Why pay cleaning if I was doing it anyway). Lesson learned. I now always tell Au pairs: don’t matter what, clean your room, your bathroom and ignore the rest of the house

JenNC February 22, 2014 at 10:10 am

Funny above about the cleaning, I am now thinking my aupair thinks my house is dirty , I have a cleaner but with snow storms she hasn’t been in 3 weeks, I’m injured on crutches and my house is falling apart.

BUTTER, well I’m American but can’t stand my butter in the fridge, I always leave it out in a butter dish on the counter, but we go through butter like crazy.

Things change over time, when I was young and my grandmother would cook a big meal for lunch, she would cover left overs and leave them sitting out on counter all day until dinner time, she didn’t think it necessary to refrigerate, she grew up in depression, and as a child they didn’t hAve a refrigerator , this practice grossed me out and when I got older I told her yuck the leftovers should go in fridge and reheated to eat again.

Was I right or wrong? This was normal practice back in the day when they didn’t have refrigerators, I do get the butter thing from her, but we used to make our own butter from our own milk my grandfather hand expressed from our milk cow.

Food differences are a big thing, I think I’m much more interested in going back towards healthier foods, non Gmo, organic from farmers than the super market myself. So I kind of get the reaction the aupairs have in our country, they Re all told to be careful what they eat in America because of the thoughts in other countries all of our food is modified. And is full of chemicals. This is a perception we have to change ourselves, I show my aupair the difference in the food I buy in grocery store, organic, no antibiotics, free range, and organic vegetables and fruit.

I appreciate my aupair and she has showed me how to make homemade sauces instead of the jar, homemade salsas, I have been making fresh and homemade meals more prompted by my aupair instead of restaurant food and premise easy foods that Are full of crap and chemicals.

I think we can also gain a lot from our aupairs and their practices in their home countries but of course with safety at the forefront.


Mariana February 22, 2014 at 10:27 am

Before I came, I told the host family that I wasn’t a very good cook, but I could do some basic recipes, like rice, beans, meet eggs. When I arrived, I realized I actually didn’t know anything about cooking, because all of the things I could cook, they didn’t eat in a regular basis. So, in the beginning, my host mom came home a little earlier to prepare dinner, she asked me to help with chopping, stirring, tasting, she also showed to me what she was doing and how to do it, and what supplies she was using.She showed me all of the kitchen supplies and told me to ask questions if I didn’t know how to use something. A couple of days later she left a recipe and asked me to follow it, she had also left her own instruction list.

Now I have autonomy in the kitchen. Of course I had some accidents, like throwing away a shrimp sauce, and the. bacon grease she uses for cooking. We don’t normally use grease that comes from animal source to cook in my home country, but we also barely eat bacon there. And the shrimp sauce looked like the water she used to clean the shrimp, so I didn’t know what I was doing. I know it must’ve been tiresome for my host mom to come home from work and still have to cook and teach me how to do it, so I tried to do my best. I had never imagined that I would eat the things I am eating now.

I came from Brazil, so our basic daily food is rice, beans, meat and salad. I also never imagined what a crockpot was, and that would use one day. I never thought I would cook something that takes hours to be prepare, and do it on my own. Now here I am, cooking Gumbo for dinner. Don’t lose hope, teach them slowly, they will feel more confortable in the kitchen, and more confident as they learn how to use the kitchen. Good luck!!

American Host Mom in Europe February 24, 2014 at 5:07 am

What a lovely experience it sounds like you are having cooking and learning to cook in a different style than what you are used to. Congratulations to you and your host mom for finding nice ways to make it work!

I’m surprised though to hear you say that what you know how to cook isn’t what they eat — have you proposed to cook Brazilian food for your host family, so they experience your food culture? I have LOVED when my au pairs come to us with recipes from their own culture, and always encourage them to make things they are used to. I enjoy the culinary variety, and think it great that my kids are exposed to it as well. In your case, I’d especially love it, as Brazilian food is so tasty!

FormerSouthAmericanAP February 22, 2014 at 11:43 am

I agree that food concepts are very cultural but how to handle and accept cultural differences also come from education and personality. However,
considering your culinary training – you have an entire background about food practices/safety- I would start dealing with it even earlier.
maybe mention during the matching period that your family believe in healthy eating and that you have certain practices you would love to sure with your au pair. Or make food the topic of one of the emails prior to matching. If the au pair has any problems learning about your food safety practices you can spare yourself the trouble beforehand (hopefully). By the time you start training her, hopefully the AP will have an open mind to learn your household practices.
I would also emphasize the importance of open lines of communication when exchanging cultural believes.
I find very naive for an an AP to come to the US and expect things to be exactly how they are in her home country – yet it can happen a lot and sometimes from both sides.

OpinionatedHM February 24, 2014 at 11:43 am

Great idea! It never occurred to me to discuss this in the interview process. It would definitely help set expectations.

TexasHM February 24, 2014 at 9:54 am

I agree with this for not only food safety, but for anything you can teach in advance. Before the APs arrive they are super motivated and often have free time as they finish their jobs, pack etc so I wouldn’t hesitate to send any of that food safety info/testing beforehand. For the APs younger than 25 that have to take a driving course (tx law) I send the link to the online drivers Ed and ask that they complete it before they arrive, it’s worked great. After that I also send some mapquest snapshots of the area and ask them to try to learn the major roads before they arrive and get overstimulated by everything new. Our last AP was motivated (in part by our “concerns” email) so she setup a time for driving practice every day with her dad until the day she left to go to orientation.

Should be working February 24, 2014 at 1:30 pm

I LOVE the idea of having them study the maps and learn major roads before arrival!! I always want the au pair to learn to read a map (we don’t have GPS) and to know the area without looking at one, eventually. What a great way to utilize that pre-arrival enthusiasm!

TexasHM February 24, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Woohoo! I sometimes get nervous sharing because some of my other HM friends think I am a little over the top with my interview process, training process, etc so its so great to get validation from this site! I also send sample actual weekly schedules and ask them to get familiar and ask questions again so there are no surprises, expectations well set and helps lower learning curve and accelerate ramp. If food safety/handling/preparation was a part of our APs responsibilities then that would definitely be something I would do a writeup on or send materials on beforehand.

Should be working February 24, 2014 at 3:10 pm

I am way over the top with my processes and handbook. The latter is 28pp long. My husband thinks it’s insane, but he’s not the rule-enforcer so I figure I better do it my way. I LOVE process/training ideas. My handbook also includes three different “sample schedules”, including when kids have no school, when AP has a weekend night’s work, and when she has a weekend off. Plus a list of “What constitutes a clean kitchen”.

Host Mom in the City February 24, 2014 at 3:26 pm

So speaking of the handbook, I’m recently realizing that it may not really matter all that much, which is completely the opposite of what I would have said even six months ago. I’m sort of obsessive about details, so I’ve had almost exactly the same handbook for three au pairs now. In all three cases, we basically read it in the beginning during training and then it was completely ignored for the rest of the year.

I think what started me on this was your statement about sample schedules and the list of what constitutes a clean kitchen. Our schedule is pretty much the same week-to-week (and we do give a list of holidays and days when the kids have no school), but it does vary oddly probably every couple of weeks, so we still have to talk about it week to week. And none of my three au pairs has ever followed my specifications about cleaning the kitchen and dining room after feeding the kids. Even with all my detail in the handbook about the tasks they are responsible for – kid’s rooms, kid’s playroom, and kitchen post-meal – I’ve still had to explain it again after our initial training discussion and with all three of them, I’ve just lowered by standards for cleanliness and done most of it myself anyway. I guess I could repeatedly say “but the handbook says it RIGHT HERE,” but it just doesn’t seem to make that much of a difference.

Or maybe it’s my process? I send it to them during matching once we’re close, and we discuss it in detail in the first few days. Maybe they’re still shell-shocked? Or more likely, they can’t possibly be expected to memorize 15 pages (that’s ours) of specifications and retain that knowledge all year?

The two au pairs who were great (our first and our third current au pair), reacted to the handbook with pretty a big “well duh…” (ours is mostly expectations for the job and some house rules). They both have a lot of common sense and approached the au pair/host parent relationship from a point of simply trying to be respectful. Both of them have asked to do things that were specifically against what is in the handbook as rules (having visitors but not taking vacation time comes to mind), but with both of them, it didn’t matter to me because I trusted them anyway and wanted to get them what they wanted out of the year. Handbook went out the window immediately in favor of respect and give and take. I don’t think they even remembered that those things were in the handbook in the first place.

The second one positioned herself in a “let me see what I can get away with” stance from the beginning and basically spent the year doing less and less on her job and more and more focusing on her social life. We had multiple talks throughout the year where I brought up the handbook, where I created multiple other documents and schedules to try to get her to understand what I wanted. It was no use – she understood what I wanted, she just didn’t care. And no amount of handbook discussing would have changed that. Handbook went out the window immediately here in favor of I’ll do whatever I want anyway.

We’ll probably start matching in the next few months for our fourth (current au pair having revived my commitment to the program after #2), and I’m actually considering bailing on the handbook concept in favor of a handful of our particular rules, a thorough description of our expectations and family pros/cons, and a selection for common sense and respect – at the matching process. And then train as normal, but then have a give and take with the “rules” (I really don’t have many anyway) depending on how the relationship goes. Am I crazy?

Should be working February 24, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Yeah, the handbook detail does often get lost pretty quickly. BUT it’s my alibi. If things aren’t going well or I’m not satisfied, I can just refer to the handbook instead of imposing “more detail” on what I mean by “clean kitchen” (for example).

My husband thinks we should have a handful of rules plus lots of training reminders. But he is also the first one to clean up after the AP and then later tell me (and only me) resentfully about it. Let me know if you shift to a different system.

The handbook also is my only real “dare to match” element. It’s SO long and detailed, it is interesting to see how APs respond when I send it during matching.

Momma Gadget February 24, 2014 at 6:55 pm

HMitC- “Handbook went out the window immediately here in favor of I’ll do whatever I want anyway”. This is currently making me crazy as we go into the home stretch. Our current AP falls under the “just don’t care” category when it comes to cleaning.
Even after a year of reminders:
Wash and dry your hands after handling raw foods- yet I still wipe chicken giz hand-prints from the refrigerator at least once a week.

Open jars need to be refrigerated.

If you spilled it, spattered it, or splashed it… Clean it up with soap and water or Antibacterial kitchen cleaner. Don’t just smear it around with an over-saturated paper towel.

No, the dishwasher is not broken. If you don’t rinse all the crusties off the dishes and let them sit all day, there will still be crusties on them after the dishwasher is finally run… and yes then YOU must scrub them by hand.

The washing machine is not broken either (yet). If you overload it, it will stop during the spin cycle declaring “UB” ( unbalanced).

If you finish the last of something- a. let me know, b. do not put the empty container back in the cabinet/refrigerator.

On a personal level we really liked this AP. In hind sight, it is because of this that we have put up so much mediocrity, even though we had vowed to never do it again. I am so angry with myself, even more so since now having AP is a such financial burden. Even after almost a year and knowing that we now are struggling, this AP seems to belligerently disregard even our basic standards.( we are not neat-nicks by any stretch of the imagination). Aside from our 1st AP & rematch, this is the only time I have felt so resentful that I cannot wait for the AP to leave. It makes me so sad.

Thanks for listening to my rant!

Host Mom in the City February 24, 2014 at 8:02 pm

I have so been there :( I’m so sorry. I remember toward the end of #2 I felt like it would literally never end. I’m still mad about it and mad that I let it go on so long. But now our wonderful third au pair has been here over half her year and I’m starting to forget. It will all be over soon and hopefully you will learn lots. By the time we’re done with this au pair journey, we’ll be experts! ;)

Taking a Computer Lunch February 24, 2014 at 8:31 pm

Momma Gadget – there are two things to keep in mind in the “home stretch months”: 1) an AP who has absolutely no common sense will not learn it in a year (sage and true advice from my LCC) and 2) when you don’t have a great relationship with the AP, everything will rub you the wrong way in the home stretch (my experience).

I have found that when you take a mediocre AP aside the home stretch, and say, “I need you to keep on working. I know you are counting the days until you can leave, but the kids are dreading your departure. I need you to be on your best behavior with them and to do thing tasks we ask of you, like washing your hands after you have touched raw chicken, so that we can say goodbye on a happy note.”

In my experience (and this dates back to when I was a newly graduated high school senior heading to college), it is easier to say goodbye to everyone you love when you are angry with them. However, that’s not the best way to do it.

APs, take note. If you want a shot at being welcomed back in your HF home any time in the future, end the year on a good note!

TexasHM February 24, 2014 at 10:09 pm

Our handbook is almost never referenced after breaking a “rule”, like another said it’s more of an alibi and interviewing/training tool. Our great APs have actually gone as far as to say they loved it and read it multiple times before arrival and we had no surprises. Our mediocre AP tried to accuse me of creating new restrictions once she starting slacking and blowing things off for boyfriend and imagine her surprise when I whipped out the handbook from 14 mos earlier and there was an entire page of the crap she was doing! She went as far as to say I list have “changed it”, she’s lucky I was too shocked to really react. Anyway, it’s more about expectation setting and you can always (and we definitely do) relax rules after trust is earned.
If you had an AP where you had to bible beat the handbook I would venture to say you have bigger issues than using a handbook or not. We swear by it, our two awesome APs thanked us for it and helped us add/edit and while I once was embarrassed it is 26 pages long I now flaunt it proudly as other families meet our AP and want to join the program as she says it sold her on our family.

OpinionatedHM March 11, 2014 at 11:34 am

Thanks everyone for your great advice. Our new Au Pair arrived on Friday. Following the advice to make food safety part of training, I had her help me prepare a roast chicken dinner on Sunday. We did the kitchen orientation, how to handle raw meat, how to wash dishes, importance of washing hands, etc. It went really well. I followed the advice to make it about how we do things in my kitchen and avoided any implication that there was a right way or wrong way, just “my way in my kitchen”. ;-) She was really cool with it and I got to learn a lot about what she likes to cook and how its prepared in her home country as we talked and worked together. Fingers crossed but so far so good!

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