Top Things Your Ayi Should Know

Finding a good ayi — and keeping her — is a big undertaking for expats. It’s important to make sure she is well trained; some agencies claim to train their staff, but honestly I’ve found those ayi’s very inconsistent as well. There are some basics about safety and hygiene which you should make sure she is aware of. I’ve mentioned a few basics below, as well as provided links to Chinese flyers that you can print and show her.

Topic 1. Safer Food

I started to discuss this in a previous post, but it’s good to review this issue frequently. Food hygiene, and proper handling of foods, is a crucial step to prevent food-borne infections. If your ayi is making dinners or preparing baby food, you need to make it a priority that she understands the basics. Fortunately, you can print out some handy Chinese language handouts from the World Health Organization’s Five Keys To Safer Food program. The five keys are:

  1. Keep clean
  2. Separate raw and cooked
  3. Cook thoroughly
  4. Keep food at safe temperatures
  5. Use safe water and raw materials

Don’t forget that most ayis come from poorer rural areas and have not been well trained in proper food handling. You can print out the PDF file of the Chinese poster and have her read it, and post it in your kitchen or somewhere she can be reminded. You can also give her the Chinese training manual if you think she may enjoy it, although the writing is more geared towards instructors. You should first read the PDF English poster and manual yourselves; you’ll be surprised at some of the basics that many people commonly forget! The poster and manual also come in many other languages.

I also found a second bilingual PDF file about the Five Keys from Hong Kong; this may also be helpful.

veggiewashTopic 2. Vegetable & Fruit Washing

The above “Five Keys” program is geared more towards preventing spread of infections. But we also have to be aware that there may be other bad things on the leaves — pesticides and other chemical residue. The Hong Kong public health website has a good PDF file (English only) that you can read and review with your ayi. Their conclusions are commonly known but good to restate: to reduce pesticide risks, leafy vegetables should be washed in running water several times, then soaked for one hour or blanched for one minute. You can download the PDF file here.

Fruits as well can have pesticides;  you should certainly wash down the fruits with a good scrubber and/or veggie wash; peeling may also benefit, although you do lose a bit of nutrients. The Hong Kong Center for Food Safety has a good article about pesticides and fruit.

Topic 3. Hand Washing

There is a lot of medical evidence that hand washing can dramatically decrease not only viral infections but also food-born infections. So no matter what your ayi does, but especially if she cooks and takes care of your children, it is crucial that she understands and follows proper hand washing. This is a big deal, because most people do not wash properly, so you really need to reinforce this. The basic rule is soap and running water for 20 seconds — even 40 seconds is better. You can also use the very handy alcohol gels if your hands are not too soiled. Fortunately, there are some helpful internet resources you can print and show to her. I found a website with good PDF instructions on proper handwashing, in multiple languages including Chinese. They also have some kid-friendly versions.

I personally feel that those Purell-style alcohol gels are an outstanding tool (for non-soiled hands), and you should put these in bedroom side tables, baby changing stations, kitchens — anywhere you like!

redcrossTopic 4. First Aid

Does your ayi know how to perform CPR? What about which phone numbers to call for an ambulance? If you’re not sure, you can pay a few hundred well-spent RMB for a Chinese-language Ayi First Aid Class. These are available at a couple places in Beijing — United Family Hospital and also International SOS Clinic. For SOS, call their main number 6462-9112 for information on the next class times.  For United Family, you can check their website calendar or call 5927.7130. You can also email [email protected].

Topic 5. Cleaning & Cooking Well

Sorry, you’re on your own there! This is more a hot topic for the Beijing Kids Household Help forums

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3 thoughts on “Top Things Your Ayi Should Know”

  1. We have a set of Fridge Magnets aimed at foreigners and Ayi’s, called “Talking to your Ayi”.

    Each set has a few hundred english word magnets translated into Chinese, Pinyin, with their English counterparts.

    Might be useful for you up in Beijing also!

    They’re available at in Shanghai, and in Beijing from

    Sorry for the blatant commercial not quite spam, but its relevant!

  2. This is a great summary.
    I would love a bullet point list in English and Chinese of key things ayis should know.
    Hygiene in the kitchen tips, for example, keeping things that touch raw meat away from cooked foods?
    Safety around babies/toddlers, for example, never leaving them alone in the bath, not even for one second, not ironing when they are home/awake, not letting them play with dangerous things such as knives or electricity sockets (based on experience here!).

    That would be a super useful tool for every Beijing family.

    Thanks for this and all the other helpful articles on your new site!

  3. "to reduce pesticide risks, leafy vegetables should be washed in running water several times, then soaked for one hour or blanched for one minute."
    Too true, I always make very sure about this.
    Thanks good post.

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