Title:
Party cooler
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The invention is an insulated cooler designed to keep salads and other foods and beverages cold and fresh while also providing a convenient means to serve these foods and beverages. A first insert liner capable of supporting bowls or other serving dishes is positioned near the top opening of the cooler. A second insert liner is optionally placed below the first insert liner, creating a compartment for ice or other coolants. The size of the ice-containing compartment is adjusted by vertically adjusting the second insert liner. The second insert liner is designed to drain melted ice to the base of the cooler, and the cooler itself is equipped with a drain to the exterior. The cooler includes one or two lids that can serve as serving surfaces when locked in an open position.



Inventors:
Helmer, Jeffrey (Clayton, NY, US)
Application Number:
11/894822
Publication Date:
02/28/2008
Filing Date:
08/22/2007
Primary Class:
International Classes:
F25D3/08
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
JONES, MELVIN
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
JAMES RAY & ASSOCIATES (2640 PITCAIRN ROAD, MONROEVILLE, PA, 15146, US)
Claims:
I claim:

1. An insulated container for food and beverages comprising: (a) a rigid base wall, two side walls attached to said base wall, two end walls attached to said base wall, a top opening defined by said two side walls and said two end walls, and a main hollow compartment defined by said base wall and said side and end walls; (b) at least one lid, capable of covering said top opening; (c) a removable first insert liner, positioned within said main hollow compartment, with openings suitable to support food and beverage containers; and (d) a drain, positioned in and extending through one said end wall.

2. The insulated container of claim 1, wherein each said end wall includes a ridge along an interior surface of each said wall, said ridges positioned below said top opening.

3. The insulated container of claim 2, wherein said first insert liner is positioned on said ridges within said main hollow compartment.

4. The insulated container of claim 3, further including a removable second insert liner, positioned above said base wall but below said first insert liner, and containing means to drain fluid to said base wall of the cooler.

5. The insulated container of claim 4, wherein said second insert liner is positioned within said main hollow compartment by means of at least one stop mounted on the interior surface of each opposing end wall.

6. The insulated container of claim 5, wherein said stops upon which said second insert liner is positioned extend a greater horizontal distance into said main hollow compartment than said ridges upon which said first insert liner is positioned extend into said main hollow compartment.

7. The insulated container of claim 6, wherein said second insert liner is of shorter length than said first insert liner.

8. The insulated container of claim 4, wherein said second insert liner is positioned within said main hollow compartment by adjustable means.

9. The insulated container of claim 1, wherein a single lid capable of covering said top opening is attached to one side wall by at least one hinge.

10. The insulated container of claim 1, wherein two lids, each attached to opposite side walls by at least one hinge, cover said top opening.

11. The insulated container of claim 1, wherein at least one lid is removable.

12. The insulated container of claim 1, wherein at least one lid, in an open position, provides a level surface parallel to a plane defined by said base wall.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

This patent application is related to and claims priority from U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/823,164, filed Aug. 22, 2006.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates, in general, to food and beverage coolers and, more particularly, this invention relates to an insulated food and beverage cooler adapted to hold round or rectangular serving dishes in an adjustably-sized cooling compartment.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Food-borne illnesses caused by bacteria such as Salmonella pose a serious health risk, especially during the summer picnic season. Public health experts emphasize the importance of keeping cold food cold, at temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit if possible, so as to minimize bacterial growth. Food items including eggs or dairy products, salads with mayonnaise bases (such as potato or macaroni salads), and fresh fruit such as cut melon are especially susceptible to bacterial contamination. It is especially critical for items like these to be kept cold, covered and out of the sun as much as possible. The risk factors for food-borne illness detailed above were considered in the conception and creation of the present invention.

Food and beverage coolers are generally well known in the prior art. There are numerous examples of coolers adapted for various sizes of food or beverage containers that include inserts to hold the containers, as well as examples disclosing means to divide the interior of the cooler into compartments.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,350,081 to Graham discloses a beverage container holder including openings in the top surface that form receptacles for receiving beverage containers. The invention of Graham is designed to receive two beverage cans, which are positioned in the top of the cooler. Additional food or beverage items can be stored in the cooler compartment below the top surface.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,329,787 to Friday discloses a combination food and beverage cooler in which a cooler pack separates food and beverage compartments. The beverage compartment is designed to store and directly dispense an otherwise non-contained beverage from a dispenser spout. The separation of food and beverage compartments exists in essence to facilitate the dispensing of beverages.

U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,671,611 to Quigley and 5,568,735 to Newkirk et al. disclose examples of coolant-surrounded food compartments. Quigley discloses a relatively narrow coolant compartment immediately within the side walls of the cooler. The coolant compartment surrounds a food and beverage compartment. Ice or other coolants may be disposed in the coolant compartment, defined by the space between the food and beverage compartment and the cooler side walls. Newkirk likewise discloses a food and beverage container composed of two layers, with refrigerant material disposed between the two layers. Food and beverages are contained in an interior receptacle.

The disclosures detailed above do not include means to adjust the size of the coolant-containing compartment, nor do they disclose means to store food or beverages in a refrigerated state immediately accessible for serving. It was in an effort to combine these features, and to improve upon them, that the present invention was created.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention provides an insulated cooler for food and beverages that is adaptable to a variety of shapes and sizes of food or beverage containers, includes an adjustable compartment for coolant material, and stores food or beverages in a refrigerated state immediately accessible for serving.

The cooler comprises a rectangular insulated box defined by a base wall, two side walls attached to said base wall and facing opposite one another, two end walls, likewise attached to said base wall and facing opposite one another, and at least one lid, which may be attached to a side wall by a hinge or other appropriate means. Said lid or lids may alternatively be removable. The rectangular box described above defines a main hollow compartment with capacity for food and beverage containers, as well as coolant materials such as ice cubes, ice blocks, or frozen gel packs. The cooler further includes a drain positioned in and extending through one of said end walls, near the bottom of the main hollow compartment. The drain is selected from ones well-known in the art of food and beverage cooler design.

The insulated cooler further includes a removable first insert liner positioned inside said main hollow compartment, just below the top opening of the cooler. The first insert liner can be positioned by appropriate means known in the art. In a preferred embodiment, a narrow ridge is molded along the interior surface of each of the end walls of the cooler, creating two ledges recessed from the top opening of the cooler, upon which the first insert liner rests.

The first insert liner can be adapted to support a variety of containers. For example, round bowls or rectangular serving dishes or combinations of the two could be accommodated by appropriately shaped and sized apertures cut into the insert. Bowls or other serving dishes designed for use in this invention could be manufactured with an extended lip or rim to stably and snugly fit into the apertures of the first insert liner.

The cooler of the present invention may further include a removable and adjustable second insert liner, positioned below the first inert liner and above the base wall. The second insert liner divides the main hollow compartment into two smaller compartments. The second insert liner would further include sieve means to allow water from melting ice to drain to the base of the cooler. In a preferred embodiment, the upper compartment would hold food and beverage containers as well as coolant material, and the lower compartment would hold any water collected from melting ice, which could then be drained to the exterior of the cooler.

The second insert liner may be fixed in position within the main hollow compartment. A ledge or stops molded along the interior surface of the oppositely-facing end walls provides a ledge upon which the second insert liner is positioned. In a preferred embodiment, the second insert liner is vertically adjustable, permitting the depth and capacity of the upper portion of the main hollow compartment to be adjusted as well. There are various means available in the art to vertically adjust a shelf-like member such as the second insert liner. In a preferred embodiment, each end wall includes two vertical parallel tracks spaced an appropriate distance from one another, said tracks having means to receive a stop manufactured from thermoplastic or the like. The four stops are placed in position on said tracks, and the second insert liner is subsequently positioned upon the stops. Alternatively, a single elongated stop, with means at proximal and distal ends to engage the vertical parallel tracks, could provide support for the second insert liner.

Both the first insert liner and the second insert liner are positioned on ledges which are molded or otherwise disposed along the interior surfaces of the two end walls. The ledges that support the second insert liner extend farther into the interior of the main hollow compartment than do the ledges which support the first insert liner. Likewise, the length of the second insert liner is chosen to be shorter than the length of the first insert liner. This arrangement allows the second insert liner to easily pass by the ledges near the top of the compartment which are intended to support the first insert liner, and be positioned upon the lower second set of ledges.

The cooler of the present invention is provided with at least one lid, which may be attached to a side wall by a hinge or hinges, or may alternatively be removable. In one embodiment, the cooler includes a single lid, attached to a side wall by a hinge extending substantially along the length of the lid and the side wall. Alternatively, two smaller hinges may be positioned an appropriate distance apart from one another, along the respective edges of the lid and side walls. In another embodiment, the cooler includes two lids, each attached to oppositely facing side walls by hinge means as described above. The two lids close toward each other to completely cover the top opening of the container.

The lid or lids of the present invention may be designed to provide a horizontal surface, substantially parallel to a horizontal plane defined by the base wall, said horizontal surface suitable for storage or to facilitate service of food or beverage items. The lid or lids are locked in horizontal position to provide a shelf-like extension of the cooler. Means to lock such a shelf in a horizontal position are known in the art, and include props, stops, hinges and the like. In a preferred embodiment, a lid is fixed in horizontal position by a locking hinge, comprising a tether or similar means connected to anchors on the lid and on the cooler side walls. When the tether is engaged with both anchors, the lid is restrained from opening past the horizontally planar position and is held in place at that position. When the tether is disengaged from one anchor, the lid can be opened in a full range of motion, such that in fully open position the lid would rest against the outer surface of a cooler side wall.

OBJECTS OF THE INVENTION

It is, therefore, one of the primary objects of the present invention to provide an insulated cooler for food and beverages that keeps items cold, shaded and covered to minimize the risk of food-borne illness.

Another object of the present invention is to provide a cooler adaptable to multiple sizes and shapes of serving containers.

Still another object of the present invention is to provide a cooler from which food items can be directly served to multiple diners in, for example, a picnic or buffet line setting.

Yet another object of the present invention is to provide a cooler with an adjustably-sized ice compartment, reducing the cost of ice necessary to sufficiently cool food or beverage items.

A final object of the present invention is to provide a cooler with means to drain melted ice, eliminating the usually inevitable messy result of food and beverage containers floating in melted ice at the end of a picnic or party.

In addition to the various objects and advantages of the present invention described with some degree of specificity above it should be obvious that additional objects and advantages of the present invention will become more readily apparent to those persons who are skilled in the relevant art from the following more detailed description of the invention, particularly, when such description is taken in conjunction with the attached drawing figures and with the appended claims.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of the invention in which two lids are illustrated, with one lid in the fully open position and one lid partially opened.

FIG. 2 is a side view of the invention, with food containers and both first and second insert liners in place.

FIG. 3 is an end view of the invention, with food containers and both first and second insert liners in place.

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of the first insert liner, and a representation of the relationship of the first insert liner, the ridge that fixes the liner in position, and the food or beverage containers the liner supports.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF A PRESENTLY PREFERRED AND VARIOUS ALTERNATIVE EMBODIMENTS OF THE INVENTION

Prior to proceeding to the more detailed description of the present invention it should be noted that, for the sake of clarity and understanding, identical components which have identical functions have been identified with identical reference numerals throughout the several views illustrated in the drawing figures.

Reference is now made, more particularly, to FIG. 1, which is a perspective view of the cooler 10 of the present invention. A base wall 11 (not shown in this figure), two side walls 12 attached to said base wall, two end walls 13 likewise attached to said base wall and at least one lid 14 combine to form a rectangular box which defines a main hollow compartment (not shown in this figure). The representation of FIG. 1 includes two lids; one lid is in a partially open position and one lid is opened to provide an essentially horizontally planar surface. The lid 14 is attached to side wall 12 by means of a hinge 17 which extends substantially along the respective edges of the lid and the side wall. A single or multiple hinges may be positioned along the common edge of the lid and side wall in any manner desirable to one skilled in the art. A locking hinge 18 is utilized to lock lid 14 in a horizontally planar position, as will be detailed below. The cooler further includes handles 15 disposed on the external surface of each end wall 13. A drain 16 is positioned in and extends through one of said end walls.

FIG. 1 further illustrates first insert liner 30, which is positioned near, but slightly recessed from, the top opening of the cooler. The first insert liner 30, as illustrated in this figure, is designed to hold three round bowls 24. The bowls 24 are illustrated with and without bowl lids 26. In alternative embodiments, the first insert liner may be designed to accommodate containers of other shapes and sizes.

Referring to FIG. 2, the first insert liner 30 is positioned in the main hollow compartment of the cooler by placing it on top of a ridge 22, which is molded along the interior surface of each of the end walls of the cooler. In one embodiment, ridge 22 would be recessed 3 inches from the top opening of the cooler, and measure approximately one inch in height by one inch in depth, extending in width substantially along the width of each end wall. The ridge 22 would define a shelf-like projection upon which the first insert liner 20 would rest. The dimensions presented here may be adjusted by one skilled in the art.

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of first insert liner 20, illustrating the relationship of liner 20 with ridge element 22. FIG. 2 further illustrates apertures 29 designed in the first insert liner 20 to accommodate food or beverage containers. In the illustrated embodiment, said containers are round bowls 24 with bowl lids 26. The insert liner 20 may be designed to accommodate containers of alternate shapes and sizes. Bowl lids 26 serve to keep perishable foods such as potato salad and the like covered and shaded. Bowl 24 is manufactured with a lip 28 or rim around the perimeter of the top opening of the bowl, such that the bowl is seated and stably supported in the first insert liner 20 when the cooler is in use. Alternately shaped and sized containers suitable for use in the present invention would be designed with analogous lip structures.

FIG. 3 is a cross-sectional view of cooler 10 viewed through side wall 12. Base wall 11 is shown, as well as the two attached end walls 13, lid 14, handles 15, and the drain to the exterior 16. This view illustrates first insert liner 20 seated upon ridge 22, and further accommodating two round bowls 24.

FIG. 3 further illustrates a second insert liner 30, positioned below first insert liner 20 and above base wall 11. Second insert liner 30 further includes sieve means 32 to allow water from melting ice to pass through said liner. Second insert liner 30 divides the main hollow compartment into an upper portion and a lower portion. The upper portion of the hollow compartment accommodates food or beverage containers and cooling materials such as ice cubes, ice blocks, dry ice, or frozen gel packs. The lower portion of the hollow compartment serves as a reservoir for water from melted ice, which may be trained to the exterior of the cooler through drain 16.

The second insert liner 30 can be positioned within the main hollow compartment in a manner analogous to that utilized for the first insert liner 20. A stop 34 is molded along the interior surface of each end wall, and second insert liner is seated on top of the platform provided by the two oppositely-facing stops. An appropriately-sized stop would measure approximately one inch in height by two inches in depth, and could extend in width up to the width of the end wall. Alternatively, two stops of a substantially smaller width and spaced an appropriate distance apart from one another can be substituted for the single elongate stop described above.

Stops 34, which support the second insert liner 30, should project farther into the main hollow compartment than the ridges 22 which support the first insert liner 20. In this arrangement, the second insert liner can be easily passed through the aperture near the top of the cooler upon which the first insert cooler is to be seated. For additional ease in positioning the inserts, the second insert liner should be shorter in length that the first insert liner.

In a preferred embodiment, the position of second insert liner 30 is vertically adjustable. In this embodiment, the volume of the upper portion of the hollow compartment can be adjusted to accommodate a range of food and beverage containers and a range of quantities of coolant material. FIG. 4 is an end view cross-section through the side wall 12 which illustrates a vertically adjustable second insert means. In a fixed position, as described above, second insert liner 30 is seated upon stops 34 molded on to the interior surface of end wall 13. In an adjustable embodiment, second insert liner 30 still is seated upon stops 34, but the position of the stops is vertically adjustable. Two vertical and parallel tracks 36 are molded on the surface of end wall 13. Said tracks include a series of female slots 37 which are engaged by male tabs (not shown) on stops 34. Stop 34 can be positioned at any appropriate height along track 36. Each of four stops 34 is positioned in each of four corresponding slots 37 along four tracks 36 creating a scaffold upon which to seat second insert liner 30.

As detailed above, the present invention includes at least one lid 14. Said lid or lids may be removable or alternatively said lid or lids may be attached to a side wall 12 by at least one hinge. In a preferred embodiment, said lid 14 is opened and locked into place such that the lid provides a horizontally planar extension of the cooler, which may be used as a shelf for plates, utensils, condiments and the like, or to facilitate the serving of food or beverages in a manner analogous to a cafeteria serving line. In this embodiment a second hinge, locking hinge 18, is utilized to lock lid 14 in a horizontally planar position. FIG. 1 illustrates lid 14 in a substantially horizontally planar position. Hinge 18 is connected to anchor elements on the underside of lid 14 and on the interior surface of end wall 13. A tether or similar connector is attached at each end to the anchors on the end wall and the lid. The length of the tether is chosen such that lid 14 is restrained from opening to a position beyond that of the horizontally planar position illustrated in FIG. 1. The tether is permanently attached to at least one of said anchors. If the tether is permanently attached to both anchors, the maximum range of motion of lid 14 is to the horizontally planar position. If the tether is permitted to be disconnected from at least one anchor, the lid can rotate in a full range of motion, whereby lid 14 can rest along and parallel to side wall 12.

While a presently preferred and various alternative embodiments of the present invention have been described in sufficient detail above to enable a person skilled in the relevant art to make and use the same it should be obvious that various other adaptations and modifications can be envisioned by those persons skilled in such art without departing from either the spirit of the invention or the scope of the appended claims.





 
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