The Foods and Nutrition program at Merced College offers a direct path to fulltime employment for local students. Michelle Pecchenino, Program Coordinator and Registered Dietitian, has grown the program over the past 15 years to accommodate student interests and careers. 

The program continues to evolve.

Beginning in fall 2020, the Foods and Nutrition program will be offering several certificates as a fast track option. In just two semesters, students will be able to earn a ServSafe Manager Certificate which is a nationally recognized certificate that reflects proficiency in food safety and sanitation, a Dietetic Service Supervisor/Certified Dietary Manager and a Certificate of Achievement.

The Foods and Nutrition curriculum prepares students to enter the workforce with courses in food safety, food service management, basic cooking, foodservice production, introduction to therapeutic diets and a community supported field experience. 

“We have partnerships in the community with several organizations including Merced Union High School District, Mercy Medical Center, Anberry Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and our Campus Dining managed by Taher,” Pecchenino said. “Students complete over 150 hours of hands on experience in commercial kitchens working with Registered Dietitians, Food Service Supervisors and kitchen staff.  Students are introduced to entry-level supervisory roles and tasks.”

After a year-long extensive application process, the program was approved in fall of 2019 as a Certified Dietary Manager (CDM) training site with the Association of Nutrition and Food Professionals (ANFP), a Nationally-known professional association which recognizes CDM as the expert in Food Service Management and Food Safety. 

“ANFP members work in hospitals, long-term care, schools, correctional facilities, and other non-commercial foodservice settings. Average salaries range from $45,000 with benefits,” Pecchenino said.

Students have an opportunity to practice cooking skills with the UC Food Pantry project. Jennifer Hobbs, Registered Dietician and Merced College professor, oversees this experience where students prepare samples of foods for recipients of the food pantry. The delicious and nutritious food samples include a recipe using ingredients distributed from the pantry.

“The task is to use several ingredients given at the distribution and keep it simple and economical to target the audience served,” Hobbs said.

The program offers an Associate of Science Transfer degree allowing students to transfer to colleges with dietetics programs, such as CSU Fresno, to become Registered Dietitians or Food Scientists. Students studying Foods and Nutrition at Merced College have transferred to UC Merced to study Public Health.  In addition, the program offers nutrition courses which meet nursing and allied health pre-requisites. 

The Foods and Nutrition program at Merced College has evolved to accommodate industry trends. However, the program is limited in its ability to accommodate additional students due to outdated facilities and equipment.

The current Foods Laboratory is in the Vocational building which has not been remodeled since it was built when the campus was established.  The outdated building puts limits on food production and the cooking equipment Pecchenino can use in instruction.

“Last year we were awarded a grant to purchase a freezer for the baking class needs and the electrical source could not accommodate it. Therefore we had to forfeit the grant and go without this needed equipment,” Pecchenino said.  “The elevator located across the building is very small and makes it challenging to transport our food, and it is difficult to regulate temperatures when you’re cooking upstairs in an old building.”

Labor statistics reflect that there will be a continued need for food service and hospitality workers at all levels. A 2019 study by the Central Valley/Mother Lode Center of Excellence found there is an undersupply of trained workers in occupations related to nutrition and culinary arts with a shortage of 1,588 in the subregion and 4,150 in the region.

“We want to continue to grow our program and meet student needs,” said Pecchenino. 

Merced College professors Pecchenino and Hobbs agree that nutrition is a key part of good health and disease prevention. Besides earning a grade, students in the Food and Nutrition program learn healthy habits that will last a lifetime. 

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 For more information, please contact the College’s Office of External Relations at (209) 384-6176.