EMBA Students Create Algorithm for Milwaukee Restaurant Grading System

The Milwaukee Health Department has implemented a new grading system for food establishments citywide, using an algorithm developed by four students in the Executive MBA program at UWM’s Lubar School of Business — Chad Boeckman, Phil Deeken, Andrew Lochowicz, and Karen Nelson.

“It’s always exciting to take what you learn and apply it in the real world,” said Lochowicz, the project manager. “It reinforces what you learned and differentiates UWM’s EMBA program from others.”

The students found that cases of foodborne illnesses declined, and overall sanitation improved, in nearly all cities that used a food grading system. The new grading system, which took effect Jan. 2, uses the students’ algorithm and scores food establishments’ compliance with the Wisconsin Food Code. Violations that generate a higher risk of foodborne illness are given greater weight and result in higher deductions.

“I personally enjoyed taking all of the feedback received from all of the key stakeholders and using that to create an objective scoring tool that emphasized collaboration and partnership between the restaurant operators and health inspectors,” said Lochowicz.

The system will use A, B and C grades that correspond to overall compliance with the Food Code; a perfect score would be 100 points. A food establishment that earns an “A” grade, for example, would have a score of at least 80 points out of 100. Food establishments can also be temporarily closed if imminent health hazards are discovered upon inspection or if the score is too low to be considered safe.

The system also enables the possibility to earn points back based on timeliness of corrections, and places an importance on an establishment’s history of successful inspection. Both factors, coupled with the algorithm’s weighting method, are designed to provide an accurate, fair grade of an establishment, as opposed to a grade that reflects one moment in time.

“We found that the largest complaint from the food service industry was the single point in time inspection which, if it yielded a lower grade, could significantly affect business for a lengthy period of time,” said Deeken.

Placards that display that letter grade, or notice of temporary closure, will also be introduced as part of the new scoring system. Placement of such placards in clearly visible areas at establishments will be mandatory starting in 2019.

The food grade system can lead to more positive outcomes for both food establishments and patrons alike. The students found that food establishments that consistently obtained a high grade saw business increase by five percent or more, based solely on the grade.

“The grading program can bring heightened awareness of the importance of sanitation in commercial food establishments and has been a win-win situation for all parties,” Deeken said. “Significant costs are also associated with the hospitalizations and lost work time due to food poisoning cases.”

The students’ work involved collaboration with city officials including Evers, Ald. Michael Murphy, Milwaukee Commissioner of Health Bevan Baker and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.  The Health Department would not have the resources to accomplish something like the algorithm so quickly, according to Murphy, if it weren’t for the students’ help developing the system.

“I’m incredibly grateful for them. Their algorithm is now at the core of Milwaukee’s food safety system moving forward,” Murphy said. “A lot of people don’t realize what a great treasure (UWM) is. They’re great.”

UWM’s Executive MBA class is composed of senior business leaders from across Southeastern Wisconsin with years of management experience. Students in the executive MBA program come from multiple fields, including engineering, law, medicine and technology.

Local nonprofits and business organizations that could benefit from working with a small team of Executive MBA students, for free, are welcome to contact Executive MBA Director Adam Wickersham.