Literature searches are crucial in the food industry when substantiating certain risks or methods. The object of a search of this kind is to gain complete insight into the literature that has been published on a certain subject. This generally involves conducting a systematic search based on scientific literature and other sources of information. Conducting a literature search really takes some doing in actual practice, because how can be sure you find the right relevant information and how can you be sure the information is reliable?
The Internet is swamped with information, making it difficult and time-consuming to find the correct information. It is essential that the literature meets certain requirements. Aspects to consider in this respect include feasibility, publicity, precision, reliability and validity. Nothing is more annoying than the confusion that comes about when research is found to be based on inaccuracies.
Literature searching can be divided into a number of steps. The first step is determining the question or the subject. What am I looking for and which question do I wish to answer? Examples of such questions include: ‘What are the frequently occurring risks in relation to meat products?’ and ‘Which packaging materials best suit my product?’.
The second step involves determining which sources of information are to be examined. Scientific articles are often a source in this respect, but various public bodies, such as the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA), also make useful information available.
The third step concerns determining the search criteria. It is essential to define search terms correctly and accurately so that you find what you are actually looking for. This can often be a repetitive and therefore time-consuming process, as multiple search terms generally need to be defined. The fourth and final step involves actually reading and analysing the literature that has been found. Here too you must take into account that some documents may initially appear to be relevant, but can ultimately prove to be of no use. And then the process starts all over again. The steps described above can often be carried out more quickly by someone who has experience with sources of information and is familiar with the subject matter.
In short, literature searching should not be underestimated and can prove to be quite a task. And that is definitely the case if you do not know how and where to search. A step-by-step plan can often help to facilitate this process and to obtain the right information more quickly.