Title:
Food storage and preservation system
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Food Storage and Preservation System with a plurality of food storage containers each with a gasketed door, each the food storage container having an air inlet port and an air outlet port, the air outlet port terminating in a solenoid valve and a vacuum limit switch, a central air treatment module in a housing, the air treatment module consisting of a vacuum pump, an ozone generator, a microprocessor and a power supply, a wire and hose harness set, said wire and harness set capable of connecting said food storage container to said air treatment module, a switch sensor that activates when said container door opens or closes, a sliding food holding tray that resides inside said food storage container, a food storage and preservation system that, when the user closes said door, first ozonates the interior of said container and then evacuates the air from said container as controlled by said microprocessor, said evacuation automatically maintained by the monitoring of said vacuum limit switch, said air treatment module being powered by a rechargeable replaceable battery, said air treatment module alternately being powered by standard household power.



Inventors:
Tarlow, Kenneth A. (Corte Madera, CA, US)
Kim, Samuel S. (Los Angeles, CA, US)
Application Number:
10/034552
Publication Date:
07/04/2002
Filing Date:
12/28/2001
Assignee:
TARLOW KENNETH A.
KIM SAMUEL S.
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
62/268
International Classes:
A23L3/3409; A23L3/37; F25D17/04; F25D25/02; (IPC1-7): F25B49/00; F25B19/00
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
TANNER, HARRY B
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Averill & Varn (Whittier, CA, US)
Claims:

I claim:



1. Food Storage and Preservation System comprising: a plurality of food storage containers each with a gasketed door, each said food storage container having an air inlet port and an air outlet port; said air outlet port terminating in a solenoid valve and a vacuum limit switch; a central air treatment module in a housing; said air treatment module consisting of a vacuum pump, an ozone generator, a microprocessor and a power supply, a wire and hose harness set; said wire and harness set capable of connecting said food storage container to said air treatment module; switch sensor that activates when said container door opens or closes; sliding food holding tray that resides inside said food storage container; food storage and preservation system that, when the user closes said door, first ozonates the interior of said container and then evacuates the air from said container as controlled by said microprocessor; said evacuation automatically maintained by the monitoring of said vacuum limit switch; said air treatment module being powered by a rechargeable replaceable battery; said air treatment module alternately being powered by standard household power.

2. A food storage and preservation system as claimed in claim 1 wherein said food storage and preservation system is built into a standard refrigerator during the manufacturing process of said refrigerator.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

[0001] This application claims the benefit of Provisional Application Serial No. 60/259,156 filed Dec. 28, 2000.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0002] This invention relates generally to the field of food storage devices, and more particularly to a modular food storage and preservation system that employs vacuum and ozone to extend a foods useful life. Since earliest recorded times mankind has sought ways to preserve and store food so that it may be eaten at a later date. Various basic methods for preserving food have been discovered and developed over the course of human history. Some of the basic methods include cooling or freezing of food, dehydrating food, storing food in an air-evacuated environment, using various gasses to retard ripening and the use of ozone or ultraviolet light to kill mold and bacteria. Today, most people in the United States own a refrigerator for the storage and preservation of food. However, refrigerators, although prolonging the life of most foods, do not extend useful life for more than about one week. Some foods spoil even faster than that. If the user does not make use of the stored food within the time of freshness, the food becomes unsuitable for eating and must be thrown out. This results in the waste of billions of dollars of food per year in the United States alone, not to mention the rest of the world.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0003] The primary object of the invention is to provide a good storage and preservation system that allows a person to store a variety of foods for extended periods of time.

[0004] Another object of the invention is to provide a food storage and preservation system that can work inside or outside a persons refrigerator.

[0005] Another object of the invention is to provide a food storage and preservation system that is modular and expandable.

[0006] A further object of the invention is to provide a food storage and preservation system that is quick and easy for the user to operate.

[0007] Yet another object of the invention is to provide a food storage and preservation system that can be battery operated.

[0008] Still yet another object of the invention is to provide a food storage and preservation system that is inexpensive to manufacture.

[0009] A further object of the invention is to provide a food storage and preservation system of the present invention that can be incorporated into the manufacture of a standard refrigerator.

[0010] Other objects and advantages of the present invention will become apparent from the following descriptions, taken in connection with the accompanying drawings, wherein, by way of illustration and example, an embodiment of the present invention is disclosed.

[0011] Food Storage and Preservation System comprising: a plurality of food storage containers each with a gasketed door, each said food storage container having an air inlet port and an air outlet port, said air outlet port terminating in a solenoid valve and a vacuum limit switch, a central air treatment module in a housing, said air treatment module consisting of a vacuum pump, an ozone generator, a microprocessor and a power supply, a wire and hose harness set, said wire and hose harness set capable of connecting said food storage container to said air treatment module, a switch sensor that activates when said container door opens or closes, a sliding food holding tray that resides inside said food storage container, a food storage and preservation system that, when the user closes said door, first ozonates the interior of said container and then evacuates the air from said container as controlled by said microprocessor, said evacuation automatically maintained by the monitoring of said vacuum limit switch, said air treatment module being powered by a rechargeable replaceable battery, said air treatment module alternately being powered by standard household power. The drawings constitute a part of this specification and include exemplary embodiments to the invention, which may be embodied in various forms. It is to be understood that in some instances various aspects of the invention may be shown exaggerated or enlarged to facilitate an understanding of the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0012] FIG. 1 is a perspective view of the food storage and preservation system of the present invention

[0013] FIG. 2 is a side section view of the food storage module of the present invention.

[0014] FIG. 3 is a side section view of the food storage module with the door in the open position.

[0015] FIG. 4 is a front view of the food storage module of the present invention.

[0016] FIG. 5 is a block diagram of the food storage and preservation system of the present invention.

[0017] FIG. 6 is a section view of the central air processing unit of the present invention

[0018] FIG. 7 is a schematic view of the air flow and air treating components of the present invention.

[0019] FIG. 8 is a perspective view of the present invention entirely inside a refrigerator.

[0020] FIG. 9 is a perspective view of the present invention with the central air treatment module situated outside the refrigerator.

[0021] FIG. 10 is a perspective view of a closed refrigerator with the central air treatment module situated on the outside of the refrigerator.

[0022] FIG. 11 is a schematic drawing of the electronic circuit of the present invention.

[0023] FIG. 12 is a perspective view of the wire-hose assembly connection process that allows multiple storage modules to be effected by a single, central air processing module.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

[0024] Detailed descriptions of the preferred embodiment are provided herein. It is to be understood, however, that the present invention may be embodied in various forms. Therefore, specific details disclosed herein are not to be interpreted as limiting, but rather as a basis for the claims and as a representative basis for teaching one skilled in the art to employ the present invention in virtually any appropriately detailed system, structure or manner.

[0025] Referring now to FIG. 1, we see a perspective view of the food storage and preservation device of the present invention 100. The device is comprised of a plurality of food storage containers or modules 6, 8, 10, 12 connected to a central air treatment module 2. Each food storage module 6, 8, 10, 12 is essentially a rectilinear enclosure that is gained access to by a hinged 30 front door 14. Within each module is a slide out tray 22 that is capable of retaining a variety of foods 32, be they fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, bread or the like. Each front door 14 includes a vacuum release button 28 that can be pressed to release the vacuum that is built up in each container and a release-secure latch 16 that also doubles as a label area. As shown in FIGS. 1 and 6, central air treatment module 2 has a removable, rechargeable battery 4 that can be easily accessed. A pair of voltage indicator lights 8, 82 tells the user when to change the battery. Other indicating means such as an audio tone can be used as well. When the user is finished adding or removing food from tray 22, he or she then pushes tray 22 back into food storage module 10 and closes door 27 thereby forcing gasket material 26 against the protruding front edge 33 of food storage module 10.

[0026] FIG. 2 shows a side section view of food storage module 10. The front door is hinged by hinge pin 404 as it surrounds hinge aperture 30 located on the bottom of door 27. Front edge protrusion 33 can be seen on gasket material 26, thereby making an air tight seal. Door opening lever 16 is hinged 400 and spring biased by spring 34. An integral latch arm 416 overcomes and is retained by vertical ledge 402 located near the top of the front of storage module 10. When the latch 416 is in its closed position, it activates electrical switch 414 which can then send a signal to a microprocessor 220 located in the central air module 2 as will be described in more detail in FIG. 6. An inlet opening 40 at the top of module housing 10 allows air to flow into the module 10. An air outflow opening 42 allows air out of the storage module 10. Tray 22 has a molded ledge 412 that slidably rests on ledge 410 that is integrally molded into the inside wall of storage module 10. In this way, the tray 22, which is made of polyethylene plastic or the like, can slide on a controlled bearing surface other than the bottom surface.

[0027] FIG. 3 shows a side view of the module 10 of the present invention with the front door 27 in the open position. Tray 22 is slid out to allow the user to add or remove food. The tray 22 can be completely removed by lifting the front ledge 25 of the tray 22 and pulling it out.

[0028] FIG. 4 shows a front view of module door 14. Hinge member 30 is clearly shown, as well as vacuum release push button 28. Latch-label member 16 allows for inserting or removing a label in a standard way, such as an open topped frame 17.

[0029] FIG. 5 is a block diagram of the working system of the food storage and preservation system of the present invention. At this point I would like to explain the general principles of operation and effectiveness of the present system. It has been long known that creating a vacuum in an enclosure helps to prolong the useful life of various types of foods. This is true because removing the oxygen in the enclosure retards the ability of the food to be degraded by the normal effects of oxidation. It is also known that a vacuum alone will not completely stop the degradation of food quality. Various molds and bacteria can live slab and, therefore, attack foods even without the presence of oxygen. One method that has been found to kill mold and bacteria, is to introduce ozone into the environment. Only a small amount of ozone, one to two parts per million, can kill surface mold and bacteria. Ozone has been proven to be safe to humans in the low quantities which are required for the present application. The Food and Drug Administration has ruled that it is safe for humans to directly breath in up to seven parts per million of ozone. Since the ozone in this application is trapped in an enclosure, the chance for humans to breath in any ozone is remote. Therefore, the present invention uses both vacuum and ozone to create an environment that insures the preservation of food in the most ideal conditions. My experiments have shown that the introduction of ozone for a period of about one minute is enough to kill all mold and bacteria in the present storage module 10, whose dimensions are approximately seven inches by seven inches by twelve inches or approximately one-third of a cubic foot. The present system is also designed for maximum convenience for the user. The user simply opens door 14, removes or adds the desired food and then closes door 14 and walks away. The rest of the activity of ozonation, vacuumization and vacuum monitoring is automatically done, as will be explained.

[0030] Referring again to FIG. 5, the sequence of events for the present system are as follows: The user presses the vacuum release valve button 28 thereby releasing the vacuum that has existed in the storage module 10. The user then unlatches latch 16 and swings open hinged door 14. The user slides out tray 22 and removes or adds food 32 as desired. The user then slides tray 22 back into storage module 10 and closes latched 16 door 14. When door 14 is closed, latch 16 makes contact with an electrical switch 414. The switch action simultaneously activates a vacuum pump, a solenoid valve and an ozone generator. The vacuum pump causes ozonated air to be drawn through a check valve 202 (FIG. 6) and into air inlet 40. The ozonated air is then pulled through the storage module 10 where it bathes the food contents stored in the module and destroys all surface mold and bacteria. The air is then drawn out of the module 10 through air outlet 42. The outlet air is allowed to be drawn through solenoid 210 (FIG. 7), which is in the open position and finally through vacuum pump 206. This process can be further visualized by the schematic diagram of FIG. 7.

[0031] Referring back to block diagram of FIG. 5, after approximately one minute of ozonation, the microprocessor controlled circuit shuts off the ozone generator and turns the solenoid off. The vacuum pump continues to operate and because the solenoid is off, a vacuum is allowed to build up inside food storage enclosure of the present invention. At approximately ten inches of mercury, a vacuum sensing switch causes the vacuum pump to turn off. If the vacuum should drop below nine inches of mercury, the vacuum switch allows electricity to flow to the vacuum pump until the ideal of ten inches of mercury is achieved. The food stored inside the food storage module 10 is now cleared of mold and bacteria and in an oxygen-free environment, thereby maximizing the life span of the food stored in that environment.

[0032] FIG. 6 shows a side section view of the interior of central air processing unit 2. The air processing components include vacuum pump 206, ozone generator 204, ozone power circuit 208, microprocessor 220, check valve 202, rechargeable, replaceable battery 4, and alternate power junction 230, allowing addition of wall pack transformer 222 that is connected by wire set 224.

[0033] FIG. 8 shows the present invention 100 at rest inside a typical refrigerator 600. It is known that refrigeration helps maintain a food's freshness. Therefore, the installation of the present invention into a refrigerator gives all the advantages of coolness, vacuum and ozone. The unique combination of these three elements in the present embodiment provides maximum food preservation capabilities, resulting in foods staying fresh for months rather than days or weeks as in a refrigerator alone. This preservation capability has the ability to help a user to make maximum use of stored food and eliminate the waste of throwing out spoiled food. The above-described technology could obviously be incorporated directly into a refrigerator during the time of manufacture of the refrigerator. In that case, the manufacturer could make use of household power supply and not be concerned with battery operation. Battery operation is required for an after-use application as envisioned. Battery operation is also convenient for campers, boat and RV owners and the like. The central air processing unit is designed to operate on twelve volts DC. The configuration of storage modules 6, 8, 10, 12 can be arranged side by side as shown or one on top of the other. The doors of the storage modules are conveniently located so that when the user opens the refrigerator door, the storage module doors and subsequent food storage bins present themselves in a convenient manner.

[0034] FIG. 9 shows an alternate embodiment of the present invention where the central air processing center 2 is located on top of the refrigerator 600 and a combination hose and wire assembly 500 travels down the side edge of the refrigerator where the door hinge normally is. The wire-hose assembly takes a right angle turn 502 and enters the interior of the refrigerator and connects to the food storage modules 8, 10, 12 of the present invention. The central air processing center 2 can then be powered by household voltage 222 rather than relying on a replaceable, rechargeable battery 4. This option may be more convenient for the user as well as being less expensive to manufacture.

[0035] Additionally, there is no additional space taken up in the refrigerator for an item that is not directly involved in food storage.

[0036] FIG. 10 shows the embodiment just described with the refrigerator door in the closed position. Notice that hose and wire assembly 500 are tucked inconspicuously in the indentation 510 between the door and body of the refrigerator 600. The hose-wire cross section thickness is only approximately ninety thousandths of an inch thick by approximately one half of an inch wide. The soft gasket material found on most refrigerator doors is forgiving enough so that it can easily accept the hose-wire strip 500 without compromising the insulative quality of the door gasket.

[0037] FIG. 11 is a schematic drawing of the microprocessor control circuit for the present invention. The present invention can also be used in a non-refrigerated environment such as on a kitchen counter. Although foods will not stay fresh as long as when refrigerated, they will stay fresh much longer than if left in an open environment at room temperature.

[0038] FIG. 12 shows a perspective view of the rear of a plurality of food storage modules 6, 8 of the present invention, as well as the rear of the central air processing module 2. The central module 2 has a female receiver socket 700 that accepts the male prongs 702 of hose and wire assembly 706. The opposite end of assembly 706 terminates in a female receiver socket 708 that is capable of mating with receptacle 714 and its prongs 711. Electrical connections include that of the wires 724 to the door switch 402, the wires 720 from pressure switch 212, the wires 738 from solenoid 210 as, well as the air inlet hose 722 and air outlet hose 718. Wire and hose assembly 730 can attach module 6 with module 8 by plugging in female socket 732 to plug portion 710 and female socket 728 to plug portion 727. Additional modules can be plugged in a daisy chain fashion so that a plurality of food storage modules can be connected to one central air processing unit 2. Because of the flexibility of the hose-wire assemblies, the food storage modules can be positioned either next to each other or on top of each other. Because each food storage module has its own solenoid 210, the vacuum can be maintained in food storage modules while one food storage module is opened for use.

[0039] In the above-described and illustrated way, a person can store food in the present invention for long periods of time without seeing significant degradation of the food's quality. This effect provides the possibility of reducing waste of food due to spoilage thereby saving the user money as well as relieving the frustration of throwing out rotten food.

[0040] While the invention has been described in connection with a preferred embodiment, it is not intended to limit the scope of the invention to the particular form set forth, but on the contrary, it is intended to cover such alternatives, modifications, and equivalents as may be included within the spirit and scope of the invention as defined by the appended claims.