Proteolytic enzyme preparations and techniques used routinely in blood group serology for the detection of atypical patient antibodies prior to transfusion vary widely and are often poorly standardised. Recent advances have been made in the use of biochemical methods to standardise and stabilise the potency of the enzyme preparations used. A joint working party of the International Council for Standardization in Haematology (ICSH) and the International Society of Blood Transfusion (ISBT) has investigated possibilities for the provision of standards for the protease preparations and techniques. The specification for these standards was that the performance of enzyme reference preparation in the reference technique should be of equivalent sensitivity to the ICSH/ISBT LISS spin indirect antiglobulin test using a titration series of a reference weak anti-D, and be free from false-positive reactions. The working party circulated materials for evaluation in inter-laboratory trials, followed by a laboratory workshop meeting to achieve agreement on the specification for reference materials and methods. Reference freeze-dried papain at 0.6 azoalbumin units and weak anti-D preparations (91/562) have been prepared and validated to meet these specifications. The performance of a test enzyme preparation in the technique for which it is recommended for use should be at least equal to that of the reference papain preparation, by the reference two-stage technique in terms of sensitivity, using a titration series of the reference anti-D, and freedom from false-positive reactions, using six fresh inert sera. The reference papain and weak anti-D can also be used to calibrate the level of proteolytic activity required in other procedures in blood group serology, such as new technology methods for antibody detection, and automated and microplate cell grouping procedures. These preparations and an agreed method for their use are now available from listed centres as ICSH/ISBT and Food and Drug Administration reference materials.