While the need to provide foodservice to “third shift” employees has typically been associated with B&I manufacturing locations, acute care hospitals have long faced the same challenge. And as cost management pressures have caused hospital FSDs to cut cafeteria hours, they’ve found themselves looking at options developed for “small site” locations like those in B&I satellite facilities, gyms and airports.

At UC-San Francisco Medical Center, Nutrition Services Director Dan Henroid wanted to offer late night staff an option beyond that available from traditional vending machines. To do that, he recently partnered with a local vendor (www.pantrylabs.com)  to install an radio frequency identification (RFID)-based glass-door refrigerator that gives staff and visitors 24-hour access to a selection of salads, sandwiches, beverages and microwaveable meal options. The unit is located in a main traffic walkway near the exit of the main Moffitt Café.

UCSFMC branded the system the Smart Choice Pantry (this extends the Smart Choice brand used for UCSFMC’s wellness program menu) and emphasizes higher quality fresh food. The offerings include about two dozen items, including some higher-end beverages like probiotic drinks. Every item in the five-foot case has a unique RFID tag attached to permit tracking.

Access to the Smart Choice refrigerator is provided by a seven-inch tablet built into the glass door. Customers can scroll down its display to see photos and information about each offering, including its price. If they want access to the case, they swipe a credit card or wave an RFID-based hospital ID card tied in to UCSFMC’s cashless payment system (that system employs FreedomPay).

As long as the refrigerator door is open, nothing is charged. When the door is shut, the system knows which items have been removed and charges the customer’s account for them. The hallway location is one where surveillance cameras already operate, and Henroid indicates shrink and theft have not been a problem.

He adds that the new option complements the hospital’s traditional vending program, which has about 50 machines located across the campus (including five located in a room next to where the Smart Choice refrigerator is sited).

Netting $2,500 a month

According to Henroid “sales have been fairly robust, netting about $2,500 a month,” after deducting food and production costs and the $400 a month service fee for the RFID refrigerator.

“Most sales are on the third shift,” he adds, especially in the period between midnight and 6 a.m., when the Moffitt Cafe Express hybrid convenience store opens in the same hallway.

One feature of the system is an automatic reporting dashboard that lets the department check individual sales in real time. This facilitates regular rotation of stock to ensure freshness. Another is that the unit has its own cellular wi-fi connection for access authorization (or, it can connect through an existing wireless network if that is available).  

Henroid says another reason the department has been testing the unit is that the hospital system has a small hospital in Mount Zion that eventually will be used only for outpatient procedures and patient observation stays. “We thought this kind of solution could complement the limited retail services that will be offered there.”