Guyana shows the way

Metric Views has come across an interesting letter in a newspaper published in Georgetown, Guyana.
Extracts are reprinted below (acknowledgements to Stabroek News The UK authorities could learn from the determined approach to metric conversion adopted by this former British colony.

The entire world is moving in the metric direction, Guyana needs to catch up
Thursday, December 20th 2007

“Dear Editor,

I take this opportunity to thank the many writers of letters in the letter columns of the three daily newspapers for their interest in the subject of metrication and the lively debate on the question of accuracy, margin of error etc.

Let me take this opportunity also to enlighten the various writers that since the re-launching of the National Metrication programme by the GNBS in 1996, the approach taken was one of education and sensitization and the following strategies have been used to get the metric message across to the Guyanese consumer:

* Think Metric Training programmes and practical exercises for all sectors including the education sector.

* The conduct of surveillance exercises countrywide at municipal markets, shops, supermarkets etc. where proprietors are shown how to price and label in metric.

* One to one education visits conducted at all commercial entities.

* Sector visits at Government Ministries, public and private sector organizations including Non-Governmental Organizations to determine training needs and carry out training when necessary.

* Distribution of ‘fact sheets, brochures, conversion tables etc.

* Live television programmes done in workshop style.

* Issuing letters of misuse to defaulters.

* Providing answers to consumers who request information via telephone.

* Setting up of a National Metrication Committee to assist the national metrication drive.

* Publication of articles and advertisements in the newspapers and other periodicals.

* Scheduled verification and calibration of all devices in metric units.

In conclusion, the GNBS wishes to inform consumers that 98% of the world’s trade is conducted in metric units and even the United States which is taking steps to change over, though it uses the imperial system of domestic commerce, uses the metric system for all its scientific work and for international trade.

The entire world is moving in the metric direction, so Guyana needs to move ahead and stop delaying the change over of the process by hanging on to the imperial system.

Yours faithfully,

Evadnie Benfield

Head, Information Services

For Executive Director

Guyana National Bureau of Standards”

Doesn’t it sound familiar?

Enjoy a healthy Christmas turkey! Roast for 40 minutes per kg at 190 °C

Many families in the UK will roast a turkey on Christmas day. Preparing a traditional Christmas dinner challenges most people as they are cooking much larger quantities of food than normal. As a result thawing and cooking times are much longer than normally experienced. Failure to thaw or roast properly may lead to food poisoning which is one of the worst things that could happen at Christmas.

Food Poisoning Risk

It is a frightening prospect that 20% of food poisoning cases are poultry related and an estimated 10 million turkeys will be prepared for Christmas in the UK. Although most incidences of food poisoning are not reported, 4 000 Britons reported food poisoning in December 2002. Preparing a traditional Christmas dinner challenges most people as they are cooking much larger quantities of food than normal. As a result thawing and cooking times are much longer than normally experienced. Food poisoning is caused by bacteria and may arise from:

  • Inadequately cooked meat due to not thawing the turkey correctly
  • Inadequately cooked meat due to not roasting sufficiently
  • Cross contamination of bacteria from raw meat
  • Failing to chill leftovers that are retained for later use.

Use kg-based Thawing and Roasting Times

The first two problems can be solved by proper calculation of thawing and roasting times. Now that turkeys in the UK are sold in kilograms, the UK Metric Association says it makes sense to give thawing and cooking times in hours and minutes per kilogram respectively. Unfortunately many products and cookery books give guidelines in minutes per lb/450g. Since turkey weights are labelled in kilos, this means that a cook either has to convert with a calculator or re-weigh the turkey in pounds. As turkeys are often too heavy for kitchen scales it is difficult for consumers to reweigh birds unless they use bathroom scales – which is hardly hygienic! Kilogram-based thawing and cooking times are easily worked out from the turkey’s label.

Thawing Times

Thawing times depend on the temperature of the place used to thaw the bird. Thawing in a refrigerator (usually around 4 °C) is recommended, however many fridges are already full around Christmas time. Alternatives are to thaw in a cool room or even room temperature.

  • For thawing in a fridge at 4 °C, UKMA recommends allowing 12 hours per kilo. Thus to thaw an 8 kg turkey allow 4 days.
  • For thawing in a cool room at 15 °C, UKMA recommends 7 hours per kilo; so 56 hours for an 8 kg turkey.
  • For thawing at room temperature at 20 °C, UKMA recommends 2 hours per kilo; so 16 hours for an 8 kg bird.

Obviously your fridge or room may have a different temperature to those listed so you may need to allow more or less time than quoted.

Turkey Hygiene

Other tips for preparing the turkey:

  • Do not wash the turkey – that risks spreading bacteria! – roasting not washing will kill the bacteria.
  • Check the inside cavity for ice crystals at the end of thawing. If ice is still there, you need more time for thawing.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by keeping the raw turkey separate from other foods and dishes.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by carefully washing hands, knives, boards and utensils that have been in contact with the raw bird.

Roasting Times

For roasting, UKMA recommends roasting for 40 minutes per kg at 190 °C, Gas 5 – thus an 8 kg bird will take 320 minutes (5 hours 20 minutes). Fractions of kilos are also easy to calculate by allowing 10 minutes for each additional ¼ kg, so an 8.25 kg requires 5 hours 30 minutes. Check the meat is cooked by parting the skin between the leg and breast. If it is still a little pink then allow an extra 20 minutes on top of your calculated time. Juices should run clear not pink.

More Tips

Other useful tips for a perfect roast turkey on Christmas Day:

  • Check your oven is large enough if you intend cooking a big bird, and buy a special turkey roasting pan.
  • Turkeys are heavy so take care when lifting in and out of the oven.
  • Smear the breasts with olive oil or softened butter and protect the breast with butter papers or foil. Or, work your hands between the skin and flesh of the breasts and slide in large wedges of soft Brie.
  • For a tasty attractive finish sprinkle the turkey with ground paprika and crushed thyme before cooking.
  • For hygiene reasons, don’t stuff the body cavity. Instead lift the neck flap and press your stuffing up against the wishbone.
  • Never carve a bird straight from the oven. Allow it to stand for at least 20 minutes. It won’t lose heat if you cover it loosely with a foil “tent”. This also allows you to get your roast potatoes nice and crisp.
  • Chill leftover turkey as soon as it is cold and serve within 3 days. If serving hot in a sauce or as a curry, then reheat until piping hot.

How others see us – an Australian view

UKMA occasionally receives letters from visitors to the UK expressing amazement at our dysfunctional muddle of measurement units. The following is typical (with thanks to JP for allowing us to use it):

Hi Robin,

I’ve just arrived back in Australia after a three and a half week visit to England. My wife was born in England and so we were visiting her parents and had some delightful weather. The trip included an eight day motor home trip around the north visiting York, Hadrian’s Wall, the Lake District and various other beautiful locations. It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip.

I’m just writing to express my amazement (I can’t think of a better word) at the mixture of measurement systems used in your country. Whilst driving, most road distances and speed were in miles and mph, some distances were expressed in metres, heights were sometimes in metres, feet and inches, or both. All weights were by the kilo, petrol by the litre, temperature in Celsius. What a mixed up muddled up world!

The thing I found most fascinating was the Ordinance Survey of Great Britain. An absolutely excellent mapping grid system designed in the mid 30’s I believe. Your road atlases use it, all your maps use it and most people (that I spoke to anyway) seem to understand it. For example, “TQ 03485 96849″. This system is entirely metric based – but no one is aware of the fact! For example the AA road atlas has each OSGB grid of 10 km square showing as exactly 5 cm by 5 cm on the page but the atlas never mentions this important fact. Instead it goes to great pains to explain the scale as 3 miles and 826.7 feet per inch!

Also fascinating, at a local fire station in Chatteris there was an old map of the local town. It was at least 70 years old and had many old features including a rail line that are no longer present. The really interesting thing was the coordinate system on this map was in metres. It was based on the OSGB.

Now, the reason I’m writing to you is that I read your quote:

The Chairman of the UK Metric Association (UKMA), Robin Paice, commented: The Irish changeover demonstrates that the British Government’s reasons for delaying the conversion of British road signs are simply a flimsy excuse for doing nothing. Frankly, they are rubbish. Irish drivers are no more likely to be familiar with speeds in km/h than are British drivers.
Familiarity with metric measures comes from use – not from education. The British Government should just get on with it.

I’m 42 years old and conversion happened when I was young (around 9) and so I have experience and what works and what doesn’t. From our experience here, your statement “Familiarity with metric measures comes from use – not from education” is the most important statement of all. I was speaking to mum (who is 65 and has pretty much embraced the entire metric system) about the change over to decimal currency in 1966. Australia moved from pounds, shillings and pence to dollars and cents – and it was overnight. I asked her how long it took to get used to the system and she said “a day”.

So I’m really just wishing you good luck in your journey and hope to see your road signs done soon. I think that will be a tipping point for England and it should be helped by the recent Irish conversion and the 2012 Olympics will provide an excellent target date.

Keep up the good work,


*Jixx Pxxxxxx*

*Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.*

This letter also reminded me of Neil Kinnock’s comment (in a foreword to UKMA’s report “Metric signs ahead“) that, when the all-metric Olympic Games are hosted in London in 2012, “our imperial road signs … contradict the image – and the reality – of our country as a modern, multi-cultural, dynamic place where the past is valued and respected and the future is approached with creativity and confidence.”

Demonstrating their own ignorance and insularity, Government ministers (including Alistair Darling, then Transport Secretary) tried unconvincingly to dismiss and ridicule these comments. However, the truth is that JP’s letter is typical of the view from abroad.