UMaine Cooperative Extension Food Specialist Jason Bolton works tirelessly throughout Maine advising the state’s established and budding food industries, giving them the tools they need to succeed and grow.
My name is Jason Bolton, and I’m the Food Safety Specialist for Cooperative Extension. The job entails many things, but it does include mostly food safety, food science, essentially, consulting for food businesses out there.
I’m a person that goes out there as a specialist and helps food companies with regulatory issues, development of certain food safety plans, making sure that foods are properly cooked, properly cooled, and an overall prevention of food safety, foodborne illness.
The ag industry, in general, in Maine is growing. When I first started seven years ago, we had only a few lobster processors. Now we have an additional six that I’ve worked with, I know. They’re large processors doing 25,000 plus pounds a day during peak season.
I can’t really express how valuable he’s been here helping us through many hurdles, or I should say helps us position ourselves to avoid many problems. Jason, like you said, his expertise, it just goes without saying. He’s the man.
I help them make sure that they met all the FDA requirements, in addition to developing a passive plan which is hazard analysis control point plan.
In addition to what’s called thermal process validations, I make sure that every piece of lobster that goes through that facility is properly cooked.
We’re talking about in one year, they did seven million pounds of lobster. That’s a lot of product to ensure that it’s safe.
The Maine Craft Distillery contacted me in 2012 when they started going. They had questions about some of the new technologies for distilling, the way to amplify some of their flavors, things like that.
I was able to use less of my food safety background, use more of my food science background to help them with flavor infusion, packaging, all kinds of things.
I helped them develop their gin, their Blueshine, I think, is the name of the product which is a blueberry liqueur, and numerous other products.
Any time they have little issues related usually with food science or distillation, they give me a call, and I try to help them out.
I was contacted by Gelato Fiasco, I believe, in 2015 when the Blue Bell issue occurred with the listeria in ice cream. That put them into a shocked moment where they said, “We should make sure we don’t have a problem like that.”
I would say that without Jason being an integral part of our safety net system, we definitely would have some challenges in getting the system put together.
It’s really helpful to have his resources, his knowledge of what the policies, what the regulations are.
Without him, we definitely would have to go to some outside sources. It would probably cost us a lot more money. This is definitely a huge asset to have him on board willing to help.
He’s just been a great sounding board for us coming from five gallons a batch to a thousand. There’s some real big scaling issues and quality control as well. He’s been really helpful just coaching us along.
Chris contacted me and said, “We had some questions about some bottles that were actually fermenting.”
I helped him validate a new process to ensure that none of their products would ferment, in addition to training him how to test each product batch to make sure that there were no contaminants.
I taught him how to do, essentially, basic microbiology. Along the way as he’s changed his process, increased the capacity of this facility, I’ve been able to help him grow and make sure that he’s still producing a consistent safe product.
If he doesn’t know the answer, he finds the answers for us. He’s just very knowledgeable. I feel he has just a broad base of experience that we can just tap into. It’s been invaluable to us, really.
There is no such thing as a normal day. A typical day in the office could be preparing presentations for either teaching, or preparing presentations for teaching an industry course, or giving a talk somewhere, answering phone calls.
I had six phone calls today, for example, companies asking about regulatory questions, students from other universities asking about development of commercial kitchens, labeling questions.
Then the typical day when I’m out driving around those periods of time where I’m not with the food companies, I’m typically on the phone here and there talking to other food companies.
I try to be as productive as possible. Maine made, to me, means quality. It means that the folks really care about the food that they’re processing.
There’s something that’s said when you produce a Maine product. That’s usually quality, hard work, and the things that go along with the state as a whole and the people that live in it.