Title:
Produce containers and interchangeable, high-density packing system using same
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A system for shipping produce including a shipping tray adapted to house a variety of different sized produce shipping containers. The produce shipping containers are sized such that when the tray is stocked with each size container only it can be filled and all of its space utilized. A produce shipping container which minimizes interior edges. A produce shipping container which enhances visibility through the top of the container through to the produce contained therein.



Inventors:
Baum, David Franz (Watsonville, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/715709
Publication Date:
09/11/2008
Filing Date:
03/08/2007
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
206/512
International Classes:
B65D21/02
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
BRADEN, SHAWN M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Michael, Guth A. (2-2905 EAST CLIFF DRIVE, SANTA CRUZ, CA, 95062, US)
Claims:
I claim:

1. A system for shipping produce comprising: a shipping tray adapted to carry a plurality of produce carrying container combinations, said shipping tray comprising a bottom and a plurality of walls extending from said bottom and forming an interior area, said plurality of produce carrying container combinations including: a first size of produce carrying container, wherein a first number of said first size of produce carrying container substantially fills said interior area; a second size of produce carrying container, wherein a second number of said second size of produce carrying container substantially fills said interior area; and a third size of produce carrying container, wherein a third number of said third size of produce carrying container substantially fills said interior area.

2. The system of claim 1 wherein said first number is 3.

3. The system of claim 2 wherein said second number is 4.

4. The system of claim 3 wherein said third number is 6.

5. The system of claim 1 wherein said shipping tray is substantially rectangular, and wherein said shipping tray comprises a long direction and a short direction. top 316. Thus, when the bottom 315 and the top 316 of the produce carrying container 310 are locked together in the closed position with the use of corner button locks 311, the produce storage area is not impacted by an interior radius as seen in FIG. 13. The button lock 311 placed exterior to the exterior radius 312 improves the visual aspect of the packaging, as well as reducing one possibility of for bruising or damage to produce. The rear corner 313 is also seen with exterior radius near the hinge 314. As evident from the above description, a wide variety of embodiments may be configured from the description given herein and additional advantages and modifications will readily occur to those skilled in the art. The invention in its broader aspects is, therefore, not limited to the specific details and illustrative examples shown and described. Accordingly, departures from such details may be made without departing from the spirit or scope of the applicant's general invention.

6. The system of claim 1 wherein said first size of produce container is substantially rectangular, and wherein said first size of produce container comprises a long direction and a short direction.

7. The system of claim 6 wherein said long direction of said first size of produce container is adapted to fit within said short direction of said shipping tray.

8. The system of claim 7 wherein said shipping tray further comprises inlet vents along its short direction.

9. The system of claims 8 wherein said first size of produce container has vents along both of its long sides, said vents substantially aligned with said inlet vents.

10. A system for shipping produce, said system comprising: a shipping tray, said shipping tray comprising; a bottom; and a plurality of walls from said bottom and forming an interior area; and three produce shipping containers, said produce shipping containers substantially filling said interior area.

11. The system of claim 10 wherein said shipping tray has a rectangular bottom, said rectangular bottom having a long direction and a short direction, and wherein said produce shipping containers are substantially rectangular, said produce shipping containers having a long direction and a short direction.

12. The system of claim 11 wherein said shipping tray is sized such that the long direction of the produce shipping containers fit within the short direction of the shipping tray.

13. The system of claim 12 wherein the long direction of the produce shipping containers substantially fill the short direction of the shipping tray.

14. The system of claim 13 wherein said three produce shipping containers fit within the long direction of the shipping tray.

15. The system of claim 14 wherein said shipping tray has notches in its walls along its short direction.

16. The system of claim 15 wherein said produce shipping containers have vents along their long direction.

17. The system of claim 16 wherein said vents align with said notches at least in part.

18. The system of claim 17 wherein said vents align with said notches in substantial part.

19. A produce carrying container comprising: a bottom well, said bottom well substantially rectangular; a top, said top comprising a raised internal portion, said top bendably attached to said bottom well along a first edge, said top adapted to be folded over said bottom well into a closed position; and a set of corner button locks, said corner button locks adapted to fasten said top to said bottom well in said closed position, said corner button locks located in the corners away from said first edge; wherein said raised internal portion of said top comprises exterior radii in all corners.

20. The produce carrying container of claim 19 wherein said corner button locks do not protrude into said raised internal portion of said top.

21. The produce carrying container of claim 20 wherein said raised internal portion further comprises a sidewall, wherein there are no protrusion into said sidewall.

Description:

BACKGROUND

1. Field of the Invention

This invention relates to containers, and more specifically to produce containers and a system of packing using produce containers.

2. Description of Related Art

Today, many produce products are both harvested and packaged in the field. These produce products include, but are not limited to, berries, grapes, tomatoes, mushrooms, and other fruits and vegetables. In many market areas, theses produce items undergo post-harvest cooling in order to prolong their shelf life.

The harvested produce is often packed directly into the ventilated containers that will be purchased by the end consumer. The containers are typically thin walled clear or semi-clear plastic and are referred to as clamshells. This may be because often the lid of the container is formed integrally to the main volume of the container and the open container gives a visual suggestion of an open clamshell. The clamshells are closed after they have been filled with the just harvested produce.

The clamshells are also adapted to facilitate the initial cooling of the produce. To this end, the clamshells have openings in various locations which allow for forced air cooling to flow through the closed clamshell and cool the produce. The clamshells are also typically placed into trays, typically made of cardboard. The trays may also have openings in various locations to facilitate the cooling air flow through the clamshells.

Typically, the clamshells are placed into trays, and then the trays are placed onto pallets. The trays are usually placed onto the pallets in a particular configuration, and then another layer of trays is placed upon the lower layer of trays in the same configuration, and so on, resulting in many layers of trays on a single pallet. Post harvest cooling typically occurs while containers are in trays, and many trays are on a pallet. The entire pallet is placed into a cooling apparatus and cooling air is forced through the trays, and thus through the containers, and across the produce.

Currently, there are a variety of sizes of trays that may be used for different types of produce, with the different trays adapted to hold differing numbers of different size clamshells, depending upon the produce type and the intended market. However, many large retailers are adapted to having the same size tray regardless of the type of produce, and regardless of the size of clamshell which is containing the produce, in order to more efficiently handle the large quantity of produce moving through their facilities.

What is called for is a system that allows for a number of interchangeable clamshell sizes with a single tray geometry. What is also called for is a system that utilizes this interchangeability while also maximizing the packing factor for produce on a pallet.

Another issue with produce packed into clamshell containers is raised with the softer produce, such as strawberries. The produce may bruise in areas where there are sharp interior corners, such as around internal stiffening features. Further, as the produce is displayed in the market in the closed clamshell container, it is desirable that the consumer be able to see through the lid to the maximum extent possible in order to gain confidence in the quality of the produce within.

What is called for is a produce clamshell container with a minimum of internal features that may bruise the produce. What is also called for is a produce clamshell container which allows for maximum viewing of the produce through the top of the clamshell container.

SUMMARY

A system for shipping produce including a shipping tray adapted to house a variety of different sized produce shipping containers. The produce shipping containers are sized such that when the tray is stocked with each size container only it can be filled and all of its space utilized. A produce shipping container which minimizes interior edges. A produce shipping container which enhances visibility through the top of the container through to the produce contained therein.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a large produce carrying container according to some embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 2 is a front view of a closed large produce carrying container according to some embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 3 is a back view of a closed large produce carrying container according to some embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 4 is a side view of a closed large produce carrying container according to some embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 5 is a top view of a closed large produce carrying container according to some embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 6 is a bottom view of a closed large produce carrying container according to some embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 7 is a dimensioned top and side view of an open large produce carrying container according to some embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 8 is a top view of a closed mid-size produce carrying container according to some embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 9 is a sketch of large produce carrying containers in a shipping tray.

FIG. 10 is a sketch of mid-size produce carrying containers in a shipping tray.

FIG. 11 is a sketch of small produce carrying containers in a shipping tray.

FIG. 12 is a sketch of a pallet partially loaded with shipping trays.

FIG. 13 is a sketch of a produce container lid with an interior radius near a button clasp.

FIG. 14 is a top view of a produce container with its button clasp outside of an exterior radius according to some embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 15 is a sketch of a produce container with its button clasp outside of an exterior radius according to some embodiments of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a large produce carrying container 102 according to some embodiments of the present invention. As seen in FIGS. 1-7, the produce carrying container 102 may be of unitary construction, that is, constructed into a single piece. The container 102 consists of a top 41 and bottom 40. The top 41 of the container 102 has been folded over and clasped using the button locks 44, 45 onto the bottom 40 of the container 102. The button locks are typically a round extrusion on one side and a mating recess on the mating piece that lock with a mild interference fit. The button locks are adapted to be locked with relatively minor force, and to be unlocked with similar force. The container 102 is substantially rectangular in nature, and has a long side 61 and a short side 60.

A plurality of front vents 50 and side vents 73 are formed along the top/bottom interface when the container 102 is closed. A portion of the vent is due to a recess in the top 41, and a portion of the vent 50 is due to a recess in the bottom. The vents provide venting along the long direction of the substantially rectangular container 102. A plurality of hinge vents 46 are seen in the hinge 78 that hinges the top 41 to the bottom 40. The front vents 50, combined with the hinge vents 46 that run along the long direction of the container on the back side of the container, allow for a significant cross-directional flow that can be accommodated along the short direction of the container 102. Thus, the long direction of the large produce carrying container 102 may be placed cross-wise to the cooling flow of a cooler into which the containers are ultimately placed and achieve significant cooling in a commercially appropriate time period.

In some embodiments, all four corners 43 of the lid are shaped with external fillets which minimize intrusion of any potentially damaging shape or edge into the area where the produce is contained. A pair of corner button locks, 44, 45 and a center button lock 48, 49 adapted to be pushed together and form a gripping seal with sufficient pressure, which may easily be delivered by the fingers of a user. The button locks may also be unsealed with similar pressure. The bottom 40 of the container 102 has a main well 42 adapted to receive produce as it is harvested. The top 41 is then folded over and the harvested fruit is now contained in the container where it will typically remain during cooling, transport, and sale. The top 41 has a raised internal portion 70 which allows the produce within to be stacked higher than the upper edge of the bottom 40. The raised internal portion 70 may have a sidewall 75.

FIG. 2 is a front view of a large produce carrying container 102 according to some embodiments of the present invention. The container 102 is seen in front view while closed. The top 41 of the container 102 has been folded over and clasped using the button locks onto the bottom 40 of the container 102. A plurality of vents 50 are formed along the top/bottom interface when the container 102 is closed. A portion of the vent 50 is due to a recess in the top 41, and a portion of the vent 50 is due to a recess in the bottom 40. The vents provide venting along the long direction of the substantially rectangular container 102, which will also allow good cross-flow perpendicular to the long direction. Combined with the hinge vents 46 that run along the long direction of the container on the back side of the container, a significant cross-directional flow can be accommodated along the short direction of the container 102. Thus, the long direction of the large produce carrying container 102 may be placed cross-wise to the cooling flow of a cooler into which the containers are ultimately placed and achieve significant cooling in a commercially appropriate time period.

FIG. 7 is a drawing of a large produce carrying container 102 according to some embodiments of the present invention. The produce carrying container 102 is seen in the open position and is adapted to be closed as well. The top 41 is adapted to fold over along the hinge line 47 and to cover the bottom 40. The hinge line 47 also includes a plurality of hinge vents 46 that will provide ventilation along hinge line when the produce carrying container 102 is closed.

A medium-sized produce container 111 is seen in FIG. 8. The medium sized produce container 111 has a button lock 82 on each of its front corners. The top 83 has exterior radii on it front 81 and back corners 80. In fact, in this embodiment, there are no internal protrusions into the raised internal portion along its sidewall. As discussed below, minimization of internal protrusions, such as internal as opposed to external radii at the corners, minimizes the likelihood of damage to the produce contained within. In addition, the lines of sight into the produce by the consumer are not as distorted, allowing for a better presentation of the produce within. Further, the lack of protrusions in this raised internal portion greatly decreases the likelihood that a potential buyer will damaged fruit, enhancing the marketability of the product.

In some embodiments of the present invention, as seen in FIG. 9, a system 100 for shipping produce including a plurality of large produce carrying containers 102 which are seen in a shipping tray 101. The large produce carrying containers 102 are adapted to substantially fill the shipping tray 101. The large produce carrying containers 102 have vents 106 in the area of their hinge line and sealing area which are adapted to line up with the vent openings 104 in the shipping tray 101. The shipping tray 101 may be a 16 inch by 20 inch shipping tray adapted for use in a 6 down configuration on a 40 inch by 48 inch pallet.

In the circumstance of the large produce carrying containers 102, the large produce carrying containers 102 may be adapted as 4 pound strawberry packaging. At one time, a 4 pound strawberry package may have seemed large for the retail market, but with the advent of stores geared towards selling larger quantities of foodstuffs and other house goods, this larger size of packaging has become called for. Prior to this invention, a large produce carrying container would be delivered in a shipping tray adapted to carry two such produce carrying containers, and the tray would be of a different size. As seen in FIG. 2, there are 3 of the 4 pound packages 102 in the shipping tray 101. Just as more of a market has developed for larger quantities, the stores geared towards selling larger quantities of foodstuffs also demand uniformity of sizes of shipping trays. As there is still a significant market for the smaller sized produce carrying containers, the arrival of a large produce carrying container adapted for a standard size shipping tray is both timely and called for.

The vent openings 104 in the shipping trays 101 may be the predominant entry and exit points for cooling air flow for the shipping trays. As seen, the large produce carrying containers 102 have a short side 130 and a large side 131. The vent openings 104 are on the short sides 130. The long direction of the large produce carrying container is adapted to just fit into the short direction of the shipping tray. The flow through the large produce carrying containers is thus predominantly across its short direction.

The shipping tray 101 has alignment tabs 103 along the upper edges of its sides which are adapted to fit up into mating slots along the bottom edge of the sides of the shipping tray placed above it in a stack. Typically, these shipping trays will be used in a six down configuration, wherein they will be laid on a pallet in a 2 by 3 configuration, which is illustrated in FIG. 12.

FIG. 10 illustrates another aspect 110 of a system for shipping produce utilizing a produce carrying container size placed in a different quantity in the same shipping tray 101. In this aspect, the mid-size produce shipping containers 111 fit into the tray 101 with the container vents 112 also aligned with the inlet vents of the shipping tray. Four of the mid-size produce shipping containers fit into a shipping tray 101 in this aspect.

FIG. 11 illustrates yet another aspect 120 of a system for shipping produce utilizing a small produce carrying container size placed in a different quantity in the same shipping tray 101. In this aspect, the small produce shipping containers 121 fit into the tray 101 with the container vents 122 also aligned with the inlet vents of the shipping tray. Eight of the small produce shipping containers fit into a shipping tray 101 in this aspect.

As seen in FIGS. 9, 10, and 11, a system for shipping produce has been developed that allows the use of a standardized shipping tray size for a variety of different sizes of produce containers. In addition, the tray inlet vents and the vents in the packaging are adapted such that there is sufficient fit and alignment of the tray inlet vents and the container vents for the produce contained in the produce carrying containers to be cooled in a sufficiently short time. Also, this system allows for a higher packing factor for a stacked pallet with regard to the larger sized produce shipping container.

FIG. 12 illustrates a partially stacked pallet according to some embodiments of the present invention. A plurality of shipping trays 101 are seen on a pallet 200. The shipping trays 101 are seen each holding 3 of the 4 pound strawberry large produce carrying containers. In this configuration, there are 18 of the 4 pound containers per layer of trays. With a tray height of less than 4 inches, 342 of the 4 pound clamshells can be stacked in a benchmark height of 79 inches, including the height of the pallet. This is a significant improvement in packing density over any prior large produce carrying container system. The highest previously known density in this envelope has been 324 four pound packages. There would be 19 layers of trays in this system.

One can see in FIG. 12 that the vent openings in the trays are lined up along the outsides of the pallet, and are adjacent along the interior where the trays meet. Combined with vents in the containers which align with the vents in the trays, there is sufficient airflow available that the produce will be cooled in a time frame that is commercially acceptable. Tests concluding that these containers have adequate and acceptable cooling times have been run, and this without the inclusion of any cooling vents in the lower portions of the large containers.

FIG. 13 is a sketch of the front corner of a produce carrying container 300. In this type of design, the bottom 302 and the top 301 are locked together in the closed position by one or more button locks 303. However, in this design, the corner button lock 303 carves into the space of the raised area of the top 301 with an interior radius 304. This interior radius 304 is not desirable for at least two reasons. First, it provides interior occlusion into the produce storage area which may lead to a higher probability of bruised or crushed produce in this area. Second, the visual aesthetic of this top display area is affected by this interior radius. The produce carrying container, although used as a harvest container, is typically also ultimately the display package used in the retail display. Thus, any improvement in the ability of the prospective purchaser to see the produce is a positive change.

FIGS. 14 and 15 illustrate a produce carrying container 310 with a corner button lock 311 in conjunction with an exterior radius 312 in the raised area of the