8 Ways To Teach Your Au Pair About Food Safety

by cv harquail on February 19, 2014

Milk left out on the counter. Raw eggs in salad dressing. Undercooked chicken thighs. And of course, the picnic lunch with macaroni salad but no ice pack.

All of these are food safety disasters.

four-stepsIf your Au Pair hasn’t been taught about food safety, though, he or she might think these are harmless mistakes. That is, until your host kid *&^#s all over the carseat.

My DH and I are pretty obsessive about environmental health related things because we have a family member with low immunity to infections. We are big into washing hands and sterilizing cutting boards.  But I’ve learned that I have to teach a lot of our au pairs how to handle food safely, because many of them just don’t know.  Here are some strategies to try.

Teaching your Au Pair Food Safety

1. Make it part of the food preparation routine that you teach your au pair.  When your au pair is not such a big cook when she arrives, it’s easy-ish to make food safety part of the routines that you teach her/him for making chicken tenders, baby bottles, and lunches.

2. Make food safety something s/he needs to teach your kids.   You can also present safe food handling routines as things that s/he needs to teach to your kids (and learn along with them). For example, I used to play a game about evaluating the fragrance of hand soap in various rest rooms (Ooh, the soap here at Dunkin Donuts smells so good! Here, try some!).

3. Print out some Food Safety Infographics and put them on your fridge. Refer to them when you are talking about meal prep, meal planning, etc.

4. Talk about food safety as part of ‘cultural differences’.  When I first went to Europe I couldn’t believe that they sold milk in boxes, displayed on refrigerated shelves. Ew! And then I learned about aseptic packaging, a cultural difference (at the time). Similarly, if you’re used to shopping every day or two, and not once a week, you probably have no idea how long sliced turkey from the deli actually lasts.

NFSM 2012 Infographic

5. Learn about & share regional differences in how ‘basic’ foods are prepared for sale, and how that influences how they can be used.  For example, did you know that you can’t make yogurt out of ultra pasteurized milk? If an au pair unknowingly tried to make yogurt ‘just like at home’ from UP milk, it would never work. It would go bad before it turned into Chobani.

6. Remember to talk with your au pair about how children have different digestive systems and immunity profiles. Even if you think raw eggs in Caesar salad dressing is fine for an adult, it is *not* fine for a child. Food safety isn’t a bunch of obsessive routines, it’s about real health and safety.

7. Use an Online Food Safety Class  to guide your Au Pair.  Here’s a nice one from the Utah Education Department!

8. Set up a competition between you vs. the Kids& The AuPair to see who can score the highest on the Food Safety Quiz of the Minnesota Dept. of Health (download it here). Whoever wins gets a week’s supply of Ben & Jerry’s.

Make sure that you have appropriate food safety tools, like a decent meat thermometer or a spray on bleach cleaner for cutting boards (and rubber gloves).

Food Safety is something that we’ve never talked about on this blog before, so thank you to OpinionatedHM for raising the issue. Her personal story and question is tomorrow’s post. Be sure to check it out.

Do you have any ways of addressing Food Safety with your Au Pair, that we should add to these? Let us know!


Seattle Mom February 20, 2014 at 2:17 am

I wish I had seen this a year ago.. our last AP cooked all the time and would leave meat out of the refrigerator alllll day long. I would put stuff away for her, but I never knew how to broach the subject. She is Thai…

Taking a Computer Lunch February 20, 2014 at 8:05 am

Most of my APs have been more food-conscious than we. I have a 7-day rule in my house. Food may stay in the fridge for up to 7 days after it has been prepared, then it must go. I have found that it takes many of my APs a couple of months to warm up to the idea of eating leftovers. The storage of food for more than 7 days is not often issue – we often have to cook more meals than we had planned because the food is consumed (teenage boys can be bottomless pits).

We do spend a fair amount of time on where items go in the fridge and how to wash dishes. While we describe our home as semi-controlled chaos to prospective candidates, we received a lot of push-back from one who thought we had too many rules. DH pointed out to her that she needed to adapt to the way we did things – she was one in a series of APs and we weren’t going to change for her.

Valnyc February 20, 2014 at 9:41 am

Love this post and helpful resources! We have the issue of keeping items in the can as “storage”. Our former au pair, who trained at a German kindergarten, taught us to label items like cartons of broth with the date opened so we could keep track of freshness.

Valnyc February 20, 2014 at 9:52 am

Check out this NYTimes article about home kitchens

Host Mom X February 20, 2014 at 12:46 pm

This example isn’t exactly a food safety issue, but we have found it a little odd that all five of our APs (from all over the world – Asia, South America, and Europe) do not realize that when you cut a fruit that lives out on the counter in the fruit basket when in non-cut form, you must then store the cut fruit in the refrigerator to prevent the fruit from getting icky. All five of them would, e.g., cut open an apple, banana, tomato, whatever – and then leave the remainder back in the fruit basket. So the leftover fruit pieces then quickly become inedible, and are wasted. It’s pretty clear that this happens, and yet all five have kept up the habit even after we point it out. I have been wondering if U.S. fruit storage guidelines in grocery stores render our fruit more likely to go bad/brown really quickly once cut than they would otherwise in other countries around the world?

Should be working February 20, 2014 at 1:23 pm

My biggest problem is getting the au pairs to understand what uneaten lunchbox items MUST be thrown away and which ones can get used again (think the difference between a yogurt that’s been unrefrigerated all day and a chocolate-chip cookie). Basically I say, if it came in a package that can stay on the shelf then it can be offered again, if it came out of the fridge it cannot. But they still don’t get it sometimes.

SwissAuPair February 20, 2014 at 6:01 pm

US-People are so obsessed with all the “health” and “safety” things. I just don’t understand why?! I lived in so many countries all over the world but never met so over-cautious people like in the USA. Every day I pack my lunch, usually a yogurt and salad (cucumber, pasta, thuna, tomato, …. ) into a box without any coolpack. And I eat it 6 to 7 hours later. As you can see, I’m still alive (and never had any problems with the food). Meat is the best when it has room-temperature before you cook it (if not chicken). And it’s also no problem to eat raw meat (still not chicken) and raw eggs.

Aussie mum February 20, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Our new German au pair baked a lovely cake and left it on top of the fridge, where the ants devoured it. Most of the German girls don’t understand the climate difference and our obsession with covering food until something like this happens or they go to use the butter and it’s liquid.

Should be working February 20, 2014 at 6:33 pm

Here’s another one: Somehow northern Europeans don’t seem to know that a refrigerator cools food and part of the mechanism is removing all moisture from the air. So uncovered food in the fridge will get dry. This includes noodles, meat, and everything. Things have to be covered. Why is this so hard to understand?

Host Mom X February 20, 2014 at 7:11 pm

We have noticed this with all of our APs as well, along the lines of the fruit issue I mentioned. But we’ve never had a northern European! I wonder if all of this can be chalked up to, “mom always magically made the food stay fresh; I have no idea how.”

mommymia February 21, 2014 at 12:51 am

Ha! This has happened over and over with all our APs, some from the southern hemisphere, as well as northern European. And why do they not realize that it isn’t necessary to cook an entire package of pasta for 2 kids plus maximum two adults? I have explained over and over, yet am continually throwing away (uncovered!) leftover spaghetti and pasta because it’s inedible even after one day!

MH Mom June 26, 2014 at 12:42 pm

First, I really appreciate this site as it validates that I am not alone in trying to make this work and getting frustrated when it doesn’t. It also makes me feel like I am not completely insane. But having said that, we are moving into AP #4 this fall and over the years I have develoepd a longer and longer manual — in part because I think it helps with overcoming early language issues and it sort of makes me feel better that I have tried to be clear with expectations (Query whether I am sucessful). There are a few odd items in it, which are mostly the result having encountered unusual issues that I would like to avoid in the future. I thought I would share my section on food safety. If there is an opportunity to get food poisoning, my husband seems to find it so we are a bit looney about it.

Food Safety `
1. Wash your hands with soap and water before you begin cooking and after handling raw meat or eggs.
2. After eating, place leftovers in the fridge in a covered contained within the hour.
3. Do not leave meat out of the refrigerator to thaw. Place it in the refrigerator on a plate overnight.
4. Use the glass cutting board for meat and the wood cutting boards for everything else. Wash the cutting boards, with soap water and bleach. Do not leave them to soak as they will absorb water, warp and be ruined.
5. Use a meat thermometer to make sure that meat is fully cooked and bacteria killed:
1. Beef, lamb, veal – at least 130 – 135 °F
2. Poultry – 160 – 165 °F
3. Pork – 145 – 155 °F
6. You can take an online food safety class at http://www.uen.org/Lessonplan/preview.cgi?LPid=31077
7. Food should be used based on the first in first out (FIFO) principle. Foods should be used in the order they come into the house.
8. If food has reached the expiration date, throw it out.
9. Leftover food from a can or jar from the pantry must be refrigerated once it is opened. A glass jar may be used, but food in cans must be transferred to a plastic covered container.
10. Food residue must be removed from all dishes and pans before they are put away.
11. Wipe down the counter with Clorox wipes after every meal
12. Raw eggs should not be used unless they are pasteurized
13. Always wash fruits and vegetables
14. Food that came from the refrigerator and comes back in the lunch box must be thrown away. Dry un-refrigerated food may be kept.
15. Lunch boxes need to have an ice pack added to them in the morning to keep refrigerated food cold (e.g., yogurt, milk)
16. When washing dishes, fill the sink with water and soap.
17. If you make things that do not need refrigeration, cover them up and put them out of reach. Things dry out very fast in here and the dog is a dirty rotten thief and will eat whatever she can reach.
18. Pay attention to how long prepared food has been in the refrigerator. After 5 days, it should be tossed.

Comments on this entry are closed.