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1. Field of the Invention
This invention relates generally to storage containers of the type for storing food and other items in an airtight vacuum environment, and more particularly to a system for converting conventional plastic storage bags having a sealable opening into one which may be evacuated of air for vacuum storage of food items.
2. Description of Related Art
Sealable plastic storage bags or “baggies” are found in almost every kitchen in America. These inexpensive disposable plastic storage bags are convenient for preserving the freshness of food items and other goods which have a longer shelf life when stored in this manner. However, it is also well known that a completely air evacuated or vacuum environment for these food items and other goods will further enhance the shelf life and ultimate freshness of the contents stored therein.
A number of prior art devices and systems are directed to creating a vacuum or airtight environment within a plastic container to accomplish this extended shelf life benefit. U.S. Pat. No. 5,215,445 to Chen discloses a vacuum pump and heat sealer combination device for evacuating air from a thermoplastic bag and sealing food inside the bag. The device is suited for home use and combines a small-scale heat sealer and a small-scale vacuum pump in a battery-powered device. In U.S. Pat. No. 7,140,402, Russell teaches a vacuum storage system and method in which a lid closure is punctured, a vacuum pump removes atmospheric gas from the container and the lid is sealed with a valve or thin film held in place by adhesive.
A method and apparatus for vacuum sealing is discloses in U.S. Pat. No. 7,297,860 to Hughes, et al. The device is configured to remove air from zipper-sealed bags and is adapted to communicate with a vacuum source. A self-sealing storage bag includes an adhesive patch constructed as part of the bag is taught in U.S. Pat. No. 6,070,397 to Bachhuber.
Maruscak teaches a household vacuum system for vacuum packing foods in bags in U.S. Pat. No. 4,337,804. The system includes a suction tube and needle valve for penetrating the wall of the container. U.S. Pat. No. 5,287,680 to Lau discloses a battery-powered, hand-held device for evacuating and sealing a plastic bag and Carcano discloses a device and method for creating a vacuum in food-holding bags in U.S. Pat. No. 5,711,136.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,873,217 to Smith discloses a vacuum sealing method and article comprising a hand-held vacuum source for evacuating a zipper-type plastic bag and a design patent to Benedict, U.S. Pat. No. D513,924 teaches a hand-held vacuum apparatus. U.S. published application US2007/0154118 to Tilman, et al. teaches a polymeric package with resealable closure and valve and methods relation thereto.
The present invention achieves the longer shelf life benefits for vacuum storage of food stuffs and other items in conjunction with a completely conventional inexpensive plastic storage bag or “baggie” on an economically selective basis which greatly enhances the economy and effectiveness of the application of this broad notion of vacuum sealing.
The foregoing examples of the related art and limitations related therewith are intended to be illustrative and not exclusive. Other limitations of the related art will become apparent to those skilled in the art upon a reading of the specification and a study of the drawings.
This invention is directed to a system, air valve assembly and method for evacuating air from the flexible self-sealing storage bag and for permanently maintaining the interior vacuum within the storage bag. An air valve assembly includes an inner valve member and an outer valve member, the inner valve member being positionable within the storage bag and against an inner surface of one flexible panel of the storage bag. The inner valve has a tapered piercing spout adapted to pierce through the flexible panel. The outer valve member has an outer valve housing positionable and lockingly engagable over the piercing spout as or after the piercing spout has penetrated outwardly through the flexible panel. A perimeter edge of the housing is sealingly engagable against the one flexible panel and a mating groove formed into the inner valve member around the piercing spout, the piercing spout having an air outlet in fluid communication with the interior of the storage bag for air evacuation. The inner valve member configured for temporary sealing engagement against the inner surface of the one flexible panel as air is removed from the interior of the storage bag out through the air outlet by activation of a vacuum pump through an air outlet of the housing.
It is therefore an object of this invention to provide a system for converting virtually any sealable plastic or flexible paneled storage bag into a vacuum-sealed storage container for preserving the freshness of foods.
It is yet another object of this invention to provide a system for vacuum sealing foods and other products within a sealable plastic storage bag which is easily storable and out of site when not in use.
Yet another object of this invention is to provide a system for vacuum sealing storage bags which is easily portable and may be taken virtually anywhere while traveling, camping, hiking and the like.
And yet another object of this invention is to provide a reusable storage arrangement for vacuum storing foods using conventional flexible plastic storage bags or “baggies”.
The following embodiments and aspects thereof are described and illustrated in conjunction with systems, tools and methods which are meant to be exemplary and illustrative and not limiting in scope. In various embodiments one or more of the above-described problems have been reduced or eliminated while other embodiments are directed to other improvements. In addition to the exemplary aspects and embodiments described above, further aspects and embodiments will become apparent by reference of the drawings and by study of the following descriptions.
FIG. 1 is a perspective view of the invention installed into a conventional sealable plastic storage container or “baggie”.
FIG. 2 is a top plan view of the inner valve member of the invention.
FIG. 3 is a side elevation view of FIG. 2.
FIG. 4 is a bottom plan view of FIG. 2.
FIG. 5 is an end elevation view of FIG. 2.
FIG. 6 is an exploded perspective view of FIG. 2.
FIG. 7 is a section view in the direction of arrows 7-7 in FIG. 2.
FIG. 8 is a section view in the direction of arrows 8-8 in FIG. 4.
FIG. 9 is a front elevation view of the preferred embodiment of a manual air evacuation pump of the invention.
FIG. 10 is a side elevation view of FIG. 9.
FIG. 11 is a top plan view of FIG. 9.
FIG. 12 is a bottom plan view of FIG. 9.
FIG. 13 is a perspective view of FIG. 9.
FIG. 14 is an exploded perspective view of FIG. 9.
FIG. 15 is a section view in the direction of arrows 15-15 in FIG. 10.
FIG. 16 is a section view in the direction of arrows 16-16 in FIG. 9.
FIG. 17 is a top plan view of a resilient sealing ring.
FIG. 18 is a side elevation view of FIG. 17.
FIG. 19 is a section view in the direction of arrows 19-19 in FIG. 17.
Exemplary embodiments are illustrated in reference figures of the drawings. It is intended that the embodiments and figures disclosed herein are to be considered to be illustrative rather than limiting.
Referring now to the drawings, and firstly to FIGS. 1 to 8, the system of the invention in combination with a conventional plastic storage container or bag A is there shown generally at numeral 10. The system 10 includes an air valve assembly 12 which includes an inner valve member 14 and an outer valve member 16 installed into the conventional plastic storage bag or container A.
Initially, a food item or other storable goods D is placed within the open sealable end C of the bag A. Prior to this, the air valve assembly 12 was assembled onto one of the flexible side panels of the bag B as will be described in more detail in FIGS. 7 and 8. After installation of the air valve assembly 12 and insertion of the item D to be vacuum-sealed within the flexible storage bag A, the sealable end C is closed. Thereafter, a vacuum pump is utilized in conjunction with the air valve assembly 12 to evacuate substantially all air from within the sealed storage bag A, again as will be described in more detail herebelow.
The inner valve member 14 includes a molded plastic piercing spout 50 molded as a unit with a base 32 and further includes a stabilizing base plate 15 generally in the shape of a semi-circular flat disc extending outwardly from the plane of the base 32. As best seen in FIG. 8, after the inner valve member 14 is positioned within the flexible bag B, the piercing spout 50 is automatically positioned against an inner surface of one of the flexible bag panels E and is tapered so as to easily pierce through the panel E by manual pressure inwardly against and immediately around the piercing spout 50. By placing the other bag panel F of the bag B against a flat surface such as a table or kitchen counter, the base plate 15 may also be manually depressed or held to stabilize the inner valve member 14 within the bag B while this piercing process is accomplished.
The outer valve member 16, also formed of molded plastic material, includes a housing 20 having a tubular outlet 30 therefor in a concentric alignment with a continuous preferably planar sealing edge 42 and an outer air chamber 48. The housing 20 also includes a central longitudinal hole 53 which tightly engages around the cylindrical base 55 of piercing spout 50.
As the two valve members 14 and 16 are assembled together into the configuration best seen in FIGS. 7 and 8 with the inner valve member 14 within the storage bag B, a tight sealing engagement is accomplished between the central hole 53 and the spout base 55 which is secured by an annular bead 18 which snapingly engages into the enlarged bottom of the hollow interior 31 of spout air outlet 30. Cavities 54 enhance the inward resiliency of retaining bead 18 to facilitate installation and to resiliently enhance retentions between the inner and outer valve members 14 and 16.
The interactive dimensions between the height of housing 20 and that of retaining ring 18 are such that a substantial sealing pressure is exerted against the bag panel E between the sealing edge 42 and a sealing groove 44 formed around the piercing spout 50 to substantially trap that portion of the bag panel E therebetween. This arrangement establishes a sealed or closed airflow path from the interior of the storage bag B and the air outlet 30. To insure that air evacuation from the bag B is complete and unencumbered, spaces between the strengthening ribs 34 of the base plate 15 and air slots 38 between spacers or legs 46 prevent the other bag panel F from blocking the airflow path to an air evacuation port 36 formed through the base 32. Evacuation of air continues through the inner portion 48a of the hollow interior 48 of housing 20 into an air passage 56 for exhausting through an air outlet 52 formed centrally through the piercing spout 50.
Importantly, as air is evacuated from the bag B as above described, the thin sheet flexible plastic material forming the bag B and panels E collapses inwardly from the position shown in phantom at G surrounding the base 53 of the piercing spout 50 to the position shown in phantom at H. In doing so, this portion of the panel E contacts against ridge 58 formed continuously around the spout base 55 to effect a vacuum seal therebetween. When substantially all of the air has been removed from the bag B, the greatest amount of sealing occurs at this point 58 for a time sufficient for the vacuum pump to be removed from air outlet 30 as described herebelow and for sealing cap 24, held in spaced relation by tether 28 from housing 20, to be flexed over upon itself and engaged over the air outlet 30. The distal end of the air outlet 30 presses against the sealing ring 26 to effect permanent vacuum sealing of the interior of the bag B, the cap 24 being held in this position by mating retaining bead 22 within retaining groove 25.
Referring now to FIGS. 9 to 16, the preferred embodiment of the air evacuation pump of the system 10 is there shown generally at numeral 60 and includes a molded plastic pump body 62 having finger-engaging handle 64 extending laterally therefrom for activation of the pump 60. A soft resilient elastomeric valve seat 66 held in place by mating retaining beads 68 within a retaining groove 70 formed within the pump body 62. The valve seat 66 includes a tapered cavity 92 which matably engages over the outer surface of the air outlet 30 of the outer valve member 16 previously described. This establishes a temporary positive seal therebetween for air evacuation from the bag B as previously described.
An elongated pump actuator 74 is slidably engagable within the inner bore of the pump body 62. This relationship is made sealable by a flexible actuator seal 90 which sealingly and biasingly engages against the inner bore of the pump body 62. An actuator stem 80 is snapably engagable over the distal end of pump actuator 74 by the resilient interengagement between the inwardly extending retaining tabs 94 best seen in FIGS. 13 and 16 into a retaining groove 78. Note that there is an air clearance or passageway 102 between the inner surface of the actuator stem 80 and the outer surface of the distal end portion of the pump actuator 74 for the release or discharge of air in the direction of arrow M described more completely herebelow.
The pump assembly 60 also includes an elongated return spring 72 positioned at one end within a spring seat 88 formed concentrically into the proximal end of valve seat 66 while the other end of the return spring 72 is positioned within an elongated spring cavity 84 of pump actuator 74.
The actuator stem 80 also includes a longitudinally extending stem 82 fitted in spaced relationship within an elongated stem well 104 of the pump actuator 74. A sealing or check ball 76 is floatingly positioned to sealingly engage within a sealing ball seat 98 formed at the proximal end of the stem weld 104. When the sealing ball 76 is in the position shown in FIG. 15, the sealing ball seat 98 is sealed. When the pump actuator 74 is depressed inwardly in the direction of arrow K, the sealing ball 76 disengages from sealing engagement with sealing ball seat 98 and air within the pump body 62 is discharged therefrom through air passage 100 and outwardly in the direction of arrow M through the air discharge passage 102. Note that the distal end of stem 80 is closely spaced at 86 with respect to sealing ball 76. When pressure against the distal end of the actuator stem 80 is released, the return spring 72 forces the pump actuator 74 outwardly in the direction of arrow L and air from within the sealed storage bag A is drawn in the direction of arrow A through air conduit 96 of valve seat 66 to effect air evacuation from the sealed storage bag B.
Referring now to FIGS. 17 to 19, another embodiment of the outer valve member 16′ is there shown in conjunction with the addition of a ring-shaped sealing ring 106 which is formed of resilient elastomeric material, preferably SANTOPRENE or SARLINK, 40 shore “A” derometer. In some situations, the thin flexible plastic material forming the panels E collapses inwardly as described with respect to FIG. 8 hereinabove, but does not effect a sufficient vacuum seal against the sealing ridge 58 in FIG. 8 as there described to allow the spout to be capped or otherwise sealed.
To insure an adequate continuing seal within the vacuum bag B until the spout is sealed, the sealing ring 106 is fitted into the hollow interior of the housing 20′ which has slight accommodating interior modifications to receive the sealing ring 106 as shown in FIG. 19. The flexible sealing flange 110 contacts against the sealing ridge 116 of the base 32 and resiliently flexes to overcome the interference shown. This additional pressure against both sides of the flexible panel E enhances the temporary vacuum sealability. To further enhance the biased resiliency of the sealing ridge 114, a collapsible cavity 112, extending radially outwardly from the central air passage 108, resiliently collapses slightly during the assembly of the outer valve housing 20′ onto the base of the spout as previously described.
While a number of exemplary aspects and embodiments have been discussed above, those of skill in the art will recognize certain modifications, permeations and additions and subcombinations thereof. It is therefore intended that the following appended claims and claims hereinafter introduced are interpreted to include all such modifications, permeations, additions and subcombinations that are within their true spirit and scope.