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This invention relates to compartmentalized packages and, in particular, to a food package having a compartmentalized tray configured for the tray to stand-up on at least one side and/or having a recessed bottom for accommodating labeling.
Various food packages are known which contain food in a form which is visible to the purchasing customer. One such package comprises a rigid base tray having food receiving compartments therein and covered with a transparent flexible film which hermetically seals the compartments. When the package is to travel in ordinary channels of commerce between the original manufacturer and a supermarket shelf, it is necessary to provide labeling and a mechanism which allows the package to stand on one edge or otherwise be displayed in a generally upright position.
Heretofore, a package of the above-described type has been provided by the food package disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,657,873, the entire disclosure of which is incorporated herein by this reference. The '873 patent provides a food package comprising a compartmentalized rigid base tray which holds food products and is covered by a flexible film which hermetically seals the compartments. Additionally, labeling and/or packaging is disposed about or secured to the exterior of the rigid base tray to allow the package to be displayed in an upright position. In particular, in a commercial form of the '873 product, marketed under the trade name “Lunchables”, a relatively stiff back panel is attached to the bottom of the compartments of the tray, with the panel extending outwardly from the compartments in at least one direction so that its edge is parallel with the outer periphery of one of the sides of the peripheral flanges and located immediately beneath it. The package can thus stand up on the edge of the back panel and the corresponding peripheral edge of the top of the tray.
There remains a need to provide, in a food package of the above-described type, a new and improved way for the package to stand on its edge and for providing labeling information, which reduces the quantity of packaging material itself.
According to the present invention, a food package is provided which comprises a compartmentalized rigid tray which is constructed and arranged to stand-up along one side edge. In addition or in the alternative, the present invention provides a compartmentalized container with a recessed bottom for receiving labeling, thereby to protect the labeling from becoming soiled during package transport and to define a peripheral foot which allows air to reach the top of a package below when stacked and improves part transportation on a conveyor belt.
Thus, the invention may be embodied in a food package comprising: a generally rectangular rigid plastic base tray having at least three compartments, a top surface defined by peripheral and internal flanges defined about and between open ends of said compartments, and a bottom defined by closed bottom ends of said compartments, said peripheral flanges defining four side edges of the base tray, each said compartment being defined by side walls extending downwardly from said peripheral and internal flanges, said peripheral and internal flanges having a width sufficient for air tightly sealing a flexible film thereto, and wherein a food product is disposed in at least one of said compartments; and a flexible film secured to said peripheral and internal flanges to substantially seal at least said compartments containing food product, wherein said side walls and said peripheral flanges are constructed and arranged so that the food package can stand on at least one of said four side edges.
These and other objects and advantages of this invention will be more completely understood and appreciated by careful study of the following more detailed description of the presently preferred exemplary embodiments of the invention taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, in which:
FIG. 1 is a isometric view of a package tray embodying the invention;
FIG. 2 is a top plan view of the tray of FIG. 1;
FIG. 3 is a view taken along line 3-3 of FIG. 2;
FIG. 4 is a view taken along line 4-4 of FIG. 2;
FIG. 5 is an illustration of the tray of FIG. 1 standing on one edge; and
FIG. 6 is a bottom isometric view of the compartmentalized tray according to an example embodiment of the invention.
The food package 10 of the present invention is comprised of a rigid base tray 12 having in its upper most reference plane peripheral flanges 14,16,18,20 that completely surround the outer periphery of the compartments and internal flanges including a transverse flange 22 and shorter internal flanges 24,26. In the illustrated example embodiment, the base tray 12 includes four compartments 28,30,32,34 with the internal flanges 22,24,26 extending between the respective compartments (FIG. 2). In this example, there is one round compartment 28, one large rectangular compartment 30, one smaller rectangular compartment 32 and one nearly square compartment 34. Of course the size and shape of the various compartments and the number of compartments provided may be varied without departing from this invention.
In the commercialization of a food product in a rigid base tray of the type described, it is important that the tray be capable of being displayed in an upright condition with the top, that is the surface having the flexible film through which the food products are visible, located in a generally or near vertical plane, facing the potential customer. According to an example embodiment of this invention, this is accomplished by constructing and arranging the rigid base tray 12 itself so that it can stand on one edge so that the top is in a slightly inclined to near vertical orientation.
In the illustrated example embodiment, one side edge of the outer peripheral flange is truncated so as to provide a stand-up feature. More particularly, as illustrated in FIG. 2, the conventional internal and peripheral flange width W is about 0.25 inches. This spaces the compartments for structural integrity and rigidity and provides an ample surface for securing the flexible film, such as by heat sealing. However, in the illustrated embodiment one side edge has a truncated flange to achieve standability. Thus, as illustrated in FIG. 5, the rigid base tray 12 may be oriented in a standing position. In this example embodiment, the flange 14 provided on the standing edge has a width ω that is about one half of the standard flange width. More specifically, the width of peripheral rim or flange 14 is about 0.13 inches in this example embodiment.
Thus, in the illustrated example, the width of one of the flanges has been reduced to allow it to stand up, so the flanges are not uniform around the entire tray. A deeper tray than the tray of the illustrated embodiment may stand up with a wider flange or full width flange because of the depth factor. With the illustrated embodiment, the package can stand up without having to make the tray as deep as would otherwise be required.
Referring to FIG. 4, in an example embodiment, the compartments have an outer side wall height H of about 1.81 inches. As also illustrated, the outer wall of the compartments is inclined at an angle α of about 3 degrees which allows the compartments to be nested before being filled.
In the illustrated example, the package is disposed at an 81 degree standing angle. It is to be understood that the package may be configured for a somewhat greater or somewhat lesser standing angle with those skilled in the art being capable of the routine experimentation appropriate to discover viable standing angles for a filled package to stably stand.
In this example, the packaging is configured to stand on a short side or end side 14 so that the package is predominantly vertically extending rather than widthwise extending. This limits the shelf width required for product display. It is to be understood, however, that the flange width can be selected consistent with the container outer wall angle α and height H so that the package may stand on a long side edge rather than the short side edge. Considering FIG. 5, it will be understood that, in particular when the package is filled with food stuffs, a standing angle that is too small will result in the packaging tending to rotate about the bottom corner 42B, 42C of the standing container into a horizontal disposition. Likewise, if the standing angle is too great, the package may have a tendency to rotate too easily forward, or the package may be undesirably deep and/or the flange undesirably narrow.
The rigid base tray is covered by a transparent flexible film 36 (FIG. 1) which is adhered to the continuous flat surfaces defined by the peripheral 14,16,18,20 and internal 22,24,26 flanges to substantially seal the respective compartments from the atmosphere and from each other. The flexible film or sealing sheet 36 may be heat sealed to the continuous rim defined by the flanges or may be adhered with biocompatible glue or by spot welding, for example. It is preferred that the adherence of the sealing sheet to the flanges be continuous or substantially continuous, that is, sufficiently continuous to largely isolate the compartments from one another. It is evident that the more continuous the seal provided, the more isolated each of the respective compartments will be from one another, so that their internal atmosphere can be isolated, and individually controlled, if desired, for example if respirating foods, such as fruits or vegetables, are disposed in the compartments. Spaced adherence points may not completely isolate the respective compartments from one another and from ambient atmosphere and, therefore, whether adherence is continuous, substantially continuous, or spaced may be determined by the particular contents of the container and/or by the manufacturer.
As noted above, each of the sealed compartments formed by the base tray and flexible film may be individually atmosphere controlled. As such, each compartment can be provided with its own atmosphere control. Atmosphere control may be provided through the use of a so-called atmosphere control member or by a controlled size and number of perforations, more specifically micro-perforations, in the flexible film or base tray. Where the atmosphere is controlled by an atmosphere control member, this refers to any member that modifies the rates at which oxygen and carbon dioxide pass into and out of the sealed package. Such atmosphere control members are well known in the art as described for example in U.S. Pat. No. 6,376,032, WO 00/004787 and U.S. Pat. No. 7,083,818, the disclosures of each of which are incorporated herein by this reference.
Alternatively, and more preferably, atmosphere control may be provided by micro-perforations, most preferably in the flexible film that is adhered to the continuous flat surface of the flanges of the base tray. When performing the modified atmosphere packaging designed to fulfill the required oxygen transmission rate (OTR) of each individual compartment, it is possible to take advantage of the wide range of micro-perforation sizes. Laser micro-perforation sizes for film used with fruits and/or vegetables can go from 75 microns to 250 microns. Also, whatever size of micro-perforation is selected, the number of micro-perforations in the film area corresponding to each individual compartment may slightly vary to accommodate the physiological changes of each vegetable brought up by changes in the growing season. In other words, vegetables are continuing living entities that require adjustment and modification of their surrounding atmosphere to control their respiratory rate and consequently extend their shelf life.
In the illustrated example embodiment, to convey label information, a label 38 is strategically placed on the collective bottom 40 of the package 10 in a recess defined by a peripheral foot 42A-D that defines a bottom frame substantially all the way around the base tray 12. An advantage of the bottom foot is that the recess which accommodates the label holds the label up and away from any moisture or anything else that might damage or soil the label, thereby ensuring its durability and readability by the consumer. The new foot design also provides space between trays when stacked during shipping or storage so that the sealing film is not blocked and the product can breathe through the film when the film is micro-perforated or provided with atmosphere control member(s). The foot design also enhances the stand up feature by adding height (depth) to the base allowing the tray to stand up and providing for stability. Thus, bottom protrusions, such as the illustrated feet are provided allow air to flow to the package below. Since they are needed for airflow, their length can be determined to provide a “wider” (deeper) base to stabilize the tray when standing. Yet another reason for the foot configuration of the illustrated embodiment is that they provide a stable, somewhat continuous base for the tray to be conveyed down a conveyor belt when being assembled.
In practice, the package can include virtually any food product. Examples include proteinaceous foods such as meat, fish, poultry, cheese, peanut butter, and the like, farinaceous foods such as bread, crackers, pretzels, etc., condiments, desserts, fruits and so on. The compartments may also include implements such as plastic utensils and/or napkins. In an example embodiment, three of the compartments have fresh vegetables disposed therein and one of the compartments, for example the round compartment, has a container of dip for the vegetables.
Although not shown in the illustrated embodiment, labels may be strategically positioned across the top of sealing sheet 36 of the package 10. It will be understood that providing a label or labels on the top of the package provides a degree of protection for the flexible film 36 during normal handling of the package. As an alternative to a label or labels partially covering the flexible film 36, a full face label may be provided having an outer periphery generally matching the outer periphery of the rigid base tray and with cutouts to permit viewing of the products in the various compartments.
In an example embodiment, the base tray 12 is made out of PET material which is non-microwavable. However, the base tray may be made out of a material suitable for microwavable applications (Polypro material) and oven material (CPET). In general the material selected for the base tray will depend upon the proposed contents of the compartments, and whether the consumer may desire to heat them.
While the invention has been described in connection with what is presently considered to be the most practical and preferred embodiment, it is to be understood that the invention is not to be limited to the disclosed embodiment, but on the contrary, is intended to cover various modifications and equivalent arrangements included within the spirit and scope of the appended claims.