Title:
Food preparation and distribution tray
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A food preparation and distribution tray is disclosed. The tray is adapted to receive and support cups, such as paper “patty” cups, for preparing food products. The tray has a plurality of openings for receiving cups. The tray also includes a support means for supporting the sides of the cups at two or more heights of the cups. The sides of the cups are not otherwise supported. In use, the cups are positioned in the openings and the sides are supported at two or more heights of the cups by the support means. The support means may, in effect, suspend the cups above a base of the tray. Alternatively, the tray may be formed so that the cups are supported by the tray base and the support means.



Inventors:
Hamblin, Ronald Geoffrey (Willoughby, AU)
Christophersen, Tony (Chelmer, AU)
Application Number:
10/543551
Publication Date:
12/14/2006
Filing Date:
01/30/2004
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D6/04; A21B3/13; A47J47/14; B65D5/10; B65D5/489; B65D71/62; B65D71/72
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
BUI, LUAN KIM
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MERCHANT & GOULD P.C. (MINNEAPOLIS, MN, US)
Claims:
1. A food preparation and distribution tray for receiving and supporting cups, such as paper “patty” cups, for preparing food products, which tray includes a means for supporting the sides of a plurality of food preparation cups at two or more spaced-apart heights of the cups.

2. The tray defined in claim 1 wherein the support means for the sides of the cups includes an upper wall and a lower wall of the tray, with the walls having aligned openings for receiving the plurality of cups and supporting the sides of the cups at two or more heights of the cups.

3. The tray defined in claim 1 wherein the upper wall is adapted to support the cups at a position that is ⅔ of the height of the cups.

4. The tray defined in claim 1 wherein the lower wall is adapted to support the cups at a position that is ⅓ of the height of the cups.

5. The tray defined in claim 1 wherein the cups include an open top end, a base, and downwardly and inwardly tapering sides and the openings in the upper wall are larger than the openings in the lower wall.

6. The tray defined in claim 1 is a box-type construction.

7. The tray defined in claim 6 wherein the upper wall forms an upper wall of the box.

8. The tray defined in claim 6 wherein lower wall forms a lower wall of the box.

9. The tray defined in claim 6 includes a base wall that forms a base wall of the box and the lower wall is parallel to and between the upper and base walls.

10. The tray defined in claim 1 includes side walls.

11. The tray defined claim 10 wherein at least one of the side walls includes openings to allow hot air to circulate into and from the tray to facilitate baking of products in the cups.

12. The tray defined claim 1 includes end walls.

13. The tray defined claim 10 wherein at least one of the end walls includes openings to allow air to circulate into and from the tray to facilitate baking of products in the cups.

14. The tray defined in claim 1 includes downwardly depending legs to space the lower wall of the tray above a base surface.

15. The tray defined in claim 14 wherein one of the legs is a downward extension of one of the side walls.

16. The tray defined in claim 1 includes internal partitions that space apart the upper and lower walls.

17. A carton board preform for forming the tray defined in claim 1 includes (a) a sleeve having a plurality of panels that form at least the upper, lower, and side walls of the tray and (b) flaps extending from the ends of the sleeve that form the end walls of the tray.

18. The preform defined in claim 17 wherein the preform is manufactured in a flat form to facilitate packaging and transportation of the preform and can be erected into the tray as required.

19. The preform defined in claim 17 wherein the flaps include locking tabs that can engage the upper, lower, and side walls or are otherwise formed to form the end walls of the tray.

20. The preform defined in claim 17 wherein the panels of the sleeve include a panel that forms the base wall of the tray.

21. A food preparation and distribution tray for receiving and supporting cups, such as paper “patty” cups, for preparing food products, which tray includes a means for supporting the sides a plurality of food preparation cups at least one height of the cups.

22. A food preparation and distribution tray assembly for preparing food products, includes: (a) a tray that includes a base wall, at least one wall positioned above the base wall and having a plurality of openings for receiving and supporting the side of a plurality of food preparation cups, and (b) a plurality of empty cups located in the openings in the wall of the tray and supported by upper wall ready for food preparation in the tray.

23. The tray assembly defined in claim 21 includes an upper wall and a lower wall positioned above the base wall with the upper and lower walls having aligned openings receiving and supporting the plurality of food preparation cups.

Description:

The present invention relates to a food preparation and distribution tray.

The present invention relates particularly, although by no means exclusively, to a food preparation and distribution tray for baked products such as muffins, cakes, scones and other such products that are made by depositing a product mixture into “cups”, such as paper “patty” cups and baking the products in an oven.

The present invention relates particularly, although by no means exclusively, to a baking tray that is suited to the manufacture of large and small numbers of such products in commercial operations.

The present invention relates particularly, although by no means exclusively, to a baking tray that can be manufactured from carton board using conventional in-line cutting, folding and gluing machinery.

The food preparation and distribution tray of the present invention is not confined to use in food baking applications and can be used in other applications. One such application is the preparation and distribution of cold-set desserts.

A widespread current practice for baking muffins (and other such “batter”-based products) in commercial operations involves depositing muffin mixture in cup-shaped moulds of metal baking trays and baking the muffins in an oven, allowing the muffins to cool in the baking trays, removing the cooled muffins from the baking trays, and packaging the muffins in suitable packaging for distribution to commercial outlets. The baking trays are cleaned and re-used to produce more muffins.

There are a number of problems associated with the above-described practice.

One problem is that the cleaning process involves the use of a considerable amount of detergent for large volume production runs. There are environmental and cost issues associated with the use of detergents.

Another problem is that there is a significant amount of labour-intensive product double handling associated with removing muffins from metal baking trays and packaging the muffins for distribution to commercial outlets. In addition to being labour intensive, inevitably, there is a risk of damaging the muffins in the process of carrying out this packaging step. Product damage to consumable products such as muffins is a serious issue from a commercial viewpoint.

The present invention provides an alternative baking tray.

In general terms, the food preparation and distribution tray of the present invention is adapted to receive and support cups, such as paper “patty” cups, for preparing food products. The tray has a plurality of openings for receiving cups. The tray also includes and is characterised by a support means for supporting the sides of the cups at two or more spaced-apart heights of the cups. The sides of the cups are not otherwise supported. In use, the cups are positioned in the openings and the sides are supported at two or more heights of the cups by the support means. The support means may, in effect, suspend the cups above a base of the tray. Alternatively, the tray may be formed so that the cups are supported by the tray base and the support means.

According to the present invention there is provided a food preparation and distribution tray for receiving and supporting cups, such as paper “patty” cups, for preparing food products, which tray includes a plurality of openings for receiving cups and a means for supporting the sides of the cups at two or more spaced-apart heights of the cups.

The food products may include products such as muffins, cakes, scones and other such products that are baked in an oven. The food products may include products non-baked food products such as cold desserts.

The above described tray has a number of important advantages over other trays known to the applicant.

One advantage is a result of being able to support the sides of cups at two or more spaced-apart cup heights. Supporting the sides of cups at two different cup heights prevents outward bulging of the cups as products bake (and thereby expand) in the cups. This is an advantage because outward bulging can hinder the removal of cups containing baked products in the cups from baking trays, and can result in damage to the products in the course of removing the products from trays. It is also an advantage because outward bulging can detract from the overall appearance and therefore commercial value of the products.

Another advantage is that the tray can be used as part of the packaging of baked products for distributing the products from a manufacturing operation to commercial outlets. This an important advantage over the current practice of baking products (such as muffins) in metal baking trays, removing the baked products from the metal baking trays, and packaging the baked products in separate packaging for distribution to commercial outlets.

A further advantage, which is related to the previous advantage, is that the tray can be used to display the food products at commercial outlets, thereby avoiding handling of the products at the commercial outlets.

A further advantage is that the tray can be reused to prepare further products. This is an important advantage in situations where re-packaging of baked) or cold-set) products is necessary—for example to meet orders for products that require fewer than the number of products in the trays.

Preferably the support means for the sides of the cups includes an upper wall and a lower wall of the tray, with the walls having aligned openings that define the tray openings for receiving the plurality of cups and supporting the sides of the cups at two or more heights of the cups.

Preferably the upper and lower walls are parallel.

The tray may include more than two walls with aligned cup-supporting openings. However, it is believed that two appropriately positioned walls should provide sufficient support in most situations.

Preferably the upper wall is adapted to support the cups at a position that is ⅔ of the height of the cups.

Preferably the lower wall is adapted to support the cups at a position that is ⅓ of the height of the cups.

Preferably the cups include an open top end, a base, and downwardly and inwardly tapering sides. The sides of the cups may be corrugated.

With this arrangement, preferably the openings in the upper wall are larger than the openings in the lower wall.

Preferably the tray is a box-type construction.

Preferably the upper wall forms an upper wall of the box.

The lower wall may form a lower wall of the box.

In an alternative, although not the only other possible alternative, the tray includes a base wall that forms a base wall of the box and the lower wall is positioned between the upper and base walls.

Preferably the tray includes side walls.

Preferably at least one of the side walls includes openings to allow air to circulate into and from the tray.

Preferably the openings in the side walls are formed to allow hot air to circulate into and from the tray to facilitate baking of products in the cups.

Preferably the tray includes end walls.

Preferably at least one of the end walls includes openings to allow air to circulate into and from the tray.

Preferably the openings in the end walls are formed to allow hot air to circulate into and from the tray to facilitate baking of products in the cups.

Preferably the tray includes downwardly depending legs to space the lower wall of the tray above a base surface.

Preferably one of the legs is a downward extension of one of the side walls.

Preferably the tray includes internal partitions that space apart the upper and lower walls.

Preferably at least one of the side and end walls extends above the plane of the upper wall to form a barrier at least partially around the periphery of the tray to protect product baked in the tray.

Preferably both side walls and both end walls include upward extensions that define a peripheral barrier around the upper wall of the tray.

Preferably the tray is formed from carton board.

Preferably the carton board includes a coating of a non-stick material on at least an outer surface of the tray.

Preferably the carton board includes a coating of a heat resistant material on at least an outer surface of the tray in situations in which the tray is intended for use in baking food products.

The tray may be formed from a carton board blank that is cut, folded and glued to form a tray preform that includes (a) a sleeve having a plurality of panels that form at least the upper, lower, and side walls of the tray and (b) flaps extending from the ends of the sleeve that form the end walls of the tray.

Preferably the tray preform is manufactured in a flat form to facilitate packaging and transportation of the preform and can be erected into the tray as required.

Preferably the flaps include locking tabs that can engage the upper, lower, and side walls or are otherwise formed to form the end walls of the tray.

Preferably the panels of the sleeve include a panel that forms the base wall of the tray.

The present invention is described further with reference to the accompanying drawings, of which:

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of one embodiment of a tray in accordance with the present invention illustrating the upper wall and one side wall of the tray;

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of the tray illustrating the upper wall and one end wall of the tray;

FIG. 3 is a section through the line 3-3 of FIG. 2;

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of the tray illustrating the lower wall and one side wall of the tray;

FIG. 5 is a side view of the tray;

FIG. 6 is an end view of the tray;

FIG. 7 is a top plan view of a preform of the tray shown in FIGS. 1 to 5; and

FIG. 8 is a top plan view of a blank for forming another embodiment of a tray in accordance with the present invention.

With reference to FIGS. 1 to 6, the tray is essentially a rectangular carton board box that includes an upper wall 3, a lower wall 5, side walls 7, and end walls 9.

The upper and lower walls 3, 5 define a means for supporting the sides of each cup at different heights of the cups. Specifically, the upper walls 3 include six openings 11 for receiving cups (not shown) for baking muffins. The lower walls 5 also include six openings 13 that are aligned with the upper openings 11 for receiving the cups (not shown). The spacing between the upper and lower walls 3, 5 and the size of the openings 11, 13 is selected so that:

(a) the upper wall 3 supports the cups around the circumference of the cups at locations that are approximately ⅔ of the height of the cups; and

(b) the lower wall 5 supports the cups around the circumference of the cups at locations that are approximately ⅓ of the height of the cups.

The basis of the selection of these locations is to provide support for the cups to prevent outward bulging of the cups as product mix, such as muffin mix, bakes in the cups.

The side and end walls 7, 9 include a series of openings 15 to enable hot air to flow into and from the tray to facilitate efficient heat transfer to the product mix in the cups. The applicant has found that, in the absence of such openings, the tray can act as an insulator to a certain extent and result in slower baking times compared with trays that have the openings.

The tray may be formed with openings (not shown) in the upper wall, other than the openings 11, for further improving hot air circulation. However, such openings have one potential drawback in that the openings may facilitate a loss of product mix as baking progresses in the cups and are not preferred on this basis.

The tray also includes legs 17 that lift the lower wall 5 clear of a base surface. The legs 17 are provided around the edge of the lower wall. There are also legs 17 that are inboard of the edge of lower wall 5.

One side of the tray is formed with a continuous leg 17 that extends along the length of the side. This leg is provides stability for the tray and contributes to the rigidity of the tray.

The other side of the tray has a corresponding upstanding “leg” which forms an upward extension 21 of the side wall above the plane of the upper wall 3. This side wall extension also contributes to the rigidity of the tray and provides a convenient glue region in the manufacture of the tray. In addition, the side wall extension forms a partial barrier around the upper wall 3 and can thereby shield the parts of baked products that extend above the upper wall. The remaining legs 17 of the tray are downwardly depending tabs.

The tray also includes a series of internal tabs 19 that are connected to the upper and lower walls 3, 5 and assist in maintaining the selected spacing between the upper and lower walls 3, 5. Each tab 19 is integrally formed with one of the inboard legs 17.

The preferred embodiment of the tray shown in FIGS. 1 to 6 is manufactured from a carton board blank on a conventional cutting, folding and glueing machine.

The carton board blank is cut, folded and glued to form a tray preform that includes a sleeve and flaps extending from opposite ends of the sleeve, as shown in FIG. 7.

The sleeve has six panels that are separated by fold lines. The panels form the upper wall, 3, the lower wall 5 and the side walls 7 of the tray. The panels are marked A, B, C, D, E, and F in FIG. 3. With reference to FIG. 3, panels C and D are glued together to form the leg 17 on that side of the tray and the panels A and F are glued together to form the upstanding “leg” on that side of the tray.

The flaps form the end walls 9 of the tray.

In the manufacturing operation the blank is cut to form:

(a) the openings 11, 13, 15 in the panels that form the upper, lower, side and end walls 3, 5, 7, 9; and

(b) the legs 17 and the internal tabs 19 from the panel that forms the lower wall 5; and

(c) the flaps that form the end walls 9.

The tray preform shown in FIG. 7 is a flat unit that is suitable for packing and distributing a plurality of the preforms to retail outlets or commercial baking operations.

The tray preform shown in FIG. 7 can readily be erected into the tray shown in FIGS. 1 to 6 by manipulating the sleeve from the flat form shown in FIG. 7 into a box-like form, with parallel upper and lower walls and parallel side walls, and folding the flaps inwardly to form the end walls of the tray.

A carton board blank for forming another, although not the only other, embodiment of a tray in accordance with the present invention is shown in FIG. 8.

The carton board blank is formed so that it can be folded and glued to form a tray preform that includes a sleeve and flaps extending from opposite ends of the sleeve.

The preform can be erected to form a tray having parallel upper, lower and base walls, with the lower wall positioned between the upper and base walls, parallel side walls and parallel end walls, with the end walls having end flaps.

The blank shown in FIG. 8 includes (a) a central panel 31 that forms the upper wall of the tray, (b) a first outer panel 33 on one side of the central panel that forms the base wall of the tray, (c) a first intermediate panel 35 interconnecting the central and first outer panels 31, 33 that forms one of the side walls of the tray, (d) a second outer panel 37 on the other side of the central panel 31 that forms the lower wall of the tray, (e) a second intermediate panel 39 interconnecting the central panel 31 and the second outer panel 37, (f) outer edge panels 41, 43 that form part of the other side wall of the tray, and (g) end panels 45, 47 connected to opposite ends of the central panel 31 that form the end walls of the tray.

The blank also includes a series of openings 49 in the central and second outer panels that form the aligned cup-receiving openings of the tray.

The blank also includes a series of openings 51 in the first intermediate panel 35 and the outer edge panel 43 that form air circulation vents for the tray.

Many modifications may be made to the embodiments of the tray described above with reference to the Figures without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention.

By way of example, the present invention is not limited to trays having upper and lower walls that define a means for supporting the sides of each cup at different heights of the cups, and the present invention extends to any suitable such support means.

In addition, the present invention is not limited to trays having legs and to the location, type and number of legs shown in the Figures.

In addition, the present invention is not limited to the particular shape of the tray, including the particular number and location of the openings for receiving baking cups, shown in the Figures.

In addition, the present invention is not limited to trays having hot air circulation openings and to the location, type and number of these openings shown in the Figures.

In addition, the present invention is not limited to trays that have upper and lower walls that support baking cups around the circumference of the cups at locations that are ⅔ and ⅓ of the height of the cups. The walls may be formed to support the cups at any suitable heights of the cups that provides adequate support against outward bulging of cups during baking of products in the cups.

In addition, whilst the preferred embodiment is made from carton board, and it is convenient for the tray to be made from this material in conventional in-line cutting, folding and glueing machinery, the present invention is not so limited and the tray may be made from any suitable material by any suitable means.

In addition, the present invention is not limited to trays for baking food products and extends to any food products that are prepared in “cups”.

In addition, the present invention is not limited to trays having multiple cup support at different heights of the cups and, in its broadest terms, extends to arrangements in which the cups are supported at one height of the cups.