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Agnes Tan

Our birthday Standards Heroes have been nominated by their peers to represent all our contributors - individuals we consider to be the real heroes of standards, in Australia and internationally. We thank those who contribute their knowledge and expertise, service, and time to Standards Australia for the benefit of the Australian community.  

Agnes Tan has worked with Standards Australia for 43 years with a particular focus on food safety and testing  

How did you become involved in standards development? 

I joined the Australian Food Microbiology Dairy Microbiology committees in 1979 as the representative for the Public Health laboratory (MDU PHL). The need for a standard method for the detection of Salmonella was identified following an Australia-wide outbreak in 1977 amongst babies caused by infant formula contaminated with Salmonella Bredeney.

I later joined the Water Microbiology committee and led a sub-committee in the development of methods for the detection of Legionella in water and potting mixes. Standards development of food and water microbiology methods were, and still are, driven by the need to address public health issues and to facilitate trade in Australia and elsewhere.    

What role have standards played in your career?   

I have been a Standards Australia committee member since 1979. I think it is an important task and continue to actively serve on FT-035, Food Microbiology, following my retirement from full time work in 2014.

Australian Standards and laboratory accreditation have been central to my work in food safety and outbreak investigations. Results of testing can vary because of test specificity and test sensitivity, so standards are key. Standard methods are generally regarded as the gold standard, especially in legal proceedings. They provide a level playing field and Australian Standards are specified in the Australian Food Standards Code (which specifies microbiological limits in food).  

I have represented Standards Australia at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) plenary meetings of ISO TC34/SC9 (mirror committee of FT-035) since 2007. I was Head of Delegation from 2007-2021.  

What is a project you’ve been particularly proud to have helped deliver? 

FT-035 is a very active and effective committee which has hugely benefitted from having a very effective Project Manager. Committee members have worked really well together. I was told once by a consumer advocate who was nominated to the committee that there was no need for her oversight. Members were only concerned with delivering a scientifically robust product. All our project proposals have been approved by SA and all have been delivered on time.  

It is hard to select any single project, but I am proud to say that we have endeavoured to adopt International Standardization Organisation standards whenever possible.

Outside of standards development, what have been some highlights of your career? 

I have been involved, with the Victorian Health Department and other jurisdictions, in the investigation of numerous food poisoning outbreaks for over 30 years. This involved trouble shooting, finding the source of the pathogen and then remediation of product and process, as appropriate. These findings were then used to support industry best practice. I’ve been fortunate to have been recognised for my work with Standards Australia on two occasions.

I was a Board Member of NATA from 2018-2021.

What do you think the future of standardisation looks like? 

There is an implicit need for us to move from consensus standards to validated standards with supporting data that is readily accessible to the consumer. This is resource intensive and often not possible within Australia. Collaboration with our overseas colleagues via ISO will ensure that we can tap into other expertise and resources. Participation in Working Groups at ISO is important because this is where key decisions, on what a standard would be, are made.  

Product specifications often refer to ISO standards, so adoption of these standards ensure that our test results are readily accepted overseas.  This, in turn, will support productivity (laboratories will not have to use multiple methods for the same determination) and facilitate international trade.  

Is there anything you’d like to say or mention about Standards Australia’s centenary year? 

Continued involvement with ISO is key to minimising costs associated with standards development. The changed meeting formats introduced during the past couple of years enables us to easily participate in Working Group meetings. Our involvement ensures that our requirements are considered when new Standards are being developed. This, in turn, will allow for identical adoption of ISO standards.


2019: Meritorious Contribution Award – International
2004: Outstanding Service—Community and Materials