Title:
FOOD PREPARATION UNIT AND ASSOCIATED COOLING SYSTEM
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A food preparation unit includes a food product storage and display section with a plurality of pans and an associated pan cooling arrangement.



Inventors:
Sanders, Joseph F. (North Richland Hills, TX, US)
Whiting, David L. (Forth Worth, TX, US)
Application Number:
11/763828
Publication Date:
01/03/2008
Filing Date:
06/15/2007
Primary Class:
International Classes:
F25D23/12
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
ZEC, FILIP
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
THOMPSON HINE LLP / ITW (DAYTON, OH, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A food preparation unit comprising: a cabinet structure; a food preparation surface toward a front side of the cabinet structure; a food product storage and display section located rearward of the food preparation surface and including a pan receiving space with a bottom wall, an upwardly extending front wall and an upwardly extending rear wall, at least one region of the pan receiving space holding open-top pans arranged in multiple rows and columns, the open-top pans including downwardly extending sidewalls resulting in a grid-like spacing between lower pan portions, the bottom wall spaced below bottoms of the open-top pans, the bottom wall having at least one linear arrangement of openings in the region and aligned with a linear segment of the grid-like spacing; a cooling system located within the cabinet structure and including at least one blower; a first delivery flow path within the cabinet structure for delivering cooled air from the cooling system to an outlet location above the pans toward one of a front and rear side of the region so as to direct a sheet-like air flow over the open-top pans; a second delivery flow path within the cabinet structure for delivering cooled air from the cooling system to the linear arrangement of openings such that cooled air is directed upward into the linear segment of the grid-like spacing.

2. The food preparation unit of claim 1 wherein the open-top pans are supported in an inclined manner from front to back.

3. The food preparation unit of claim 1 further comprising: a first return flow path extending from an intake location toward the other of the front and rear side of the region so as to draw in air from the sheet-like air flow and deliver the air back to the cooling system; a second return flow path in communication with an intake location on one of the front wall and rear wall of the pan-receiving space so as to draw in air delivered to the pan-receiving space via the linear arrangement of openings.

4. The food preparation unit of claim 3 further comprising: a third delivery flow path for delivering cooled air from the cooling system to an outlet location on the other of the front wall and the rear wall of the pan receiving space at a height proximate to, but below lips of the pans.

5. The food preparation unit of claim 4 wherein the first, second and third delivery flow paths partially overlap.

6. The food preparation unit of claim 5 wherein the first and second return flow paths partially overlap.

7. The food preparation unit of claim 6 wherein the cabinet structure includes a storage space below the food product storage and display section, air flowing along the first and second return flow paths is delivered into the storage space prior to returning to the cooling system.

8. The food preparation unit of claim 1 wherein the linear arrangement of openings extends from a left side to a right side of the region.

9. The food preparation unit of claim 1 wherein the region includes front, middle and rear pan rows, first and second linear arrangements of openings are provided in alignment with first and second linear segments of the grid-like spacing, the first linear segment is between the front pan row and the middle pan row, the second linear segment is between the middle pan row and the rear pan row.

10. A method of cooling food product at a food preparation location, the method comprising: providing a cabinet structure with a food preparation surface and a food product storage and display section rearward of the food preparation surface; supporting a plurality of open-top pans in a pan receiving space of the food product storage and display section, the pan receiving space including a bottom wall, an upwardly extending front wall and an upwardly extending rear wall, the plurality of pans including at least three rows of open-top pans, the open-top pans including downwardly extending sidewalls resulting in a grid-like spacing between lower pan portions; operating a cooling unit and moving air through the cooling unit to be cooled; directing air from the cooling unit through openings in the bottom wall to produce a first flow upward into a first linear segment of the grid-like spacing and a second flow upward into a second linear segment of the grid-like spacing, the first linear spacing spaced apart from and parallel to the second linear segment.

11. The method of claim 10, further comprising: directing air from the cooling unit in a sheet-like manner from one of the front wall and the rear wall over the open-top pans.

12. The method of claim 11 further comprising providing a first return flow path extending from an intake location at the other of the front and rear side of the region for drawing in air from the sheet-like air flow and delivering the air back to the cooling system; providing a second return flow path in communication with an intake location on one of the front wall and rear wall of the pan-receiving space for drawing in air directed from the cooling unit through the openings in the bottom wall.

13. The method of claim 12 further comprising: providing a third flow delivering cooled air from the cooling system to an outlet location on the other of the front wall and the rear wall of the pan receiving space at a height proximate to, but below lips of the pans.

14. The method of claim 13 wherein the first, second and third flows partially overlap.

15. The method of claim 14 wherein the first and second return flow paths partially overlap.

16. The method of claim 12 wherein the cabinet structure includes a storage space below the food product storage and display section, air flowing along the first and second return flow paths is delivered into the storage space prior to returning to the cooling system.

17. The method of claim 10 further comprising supporting the open-top pans in an inclined manner from front to back.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/817,712, filed Jun. 30, 2006, the content of which is hereby incorporated by reference as if fully set forth herein.

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present application relates to food preparation tables and other open-top chilling units that store multiple food products in open-top pans or bins, and more particularly to a food preparation table with an advantageous cooling system associated with such pans or bins.

BACKGROUND

Refrigerated food preparation tables are typically configured with work areas in close proximity to open-top refrigerated storage pans to provide food preparation personnel a locations to prepare food products using food items contained in the pans. These tables are generally used in restaurants, cafeterias, or by food service providers for the preparation of sandwiches, salads, pizzas etc. Various techniques have been used in the past to maintain food items in the pans at acceptable temperature levels. Improvements in pan/food product cooling are regularly sought.

SUMMARY

In one aspect, a food preparation unit including a cabinet structure and a food preparation surface toward a front side of the cabinet structure. A food product storage and display section is located rearward of the food preparation surface and includes a pan receiving space with an upwardly extending front wall, an upwardly extending rear wall and a bottom wall. At least one region of the pan receiving space holds open-top pans arranged in multiple rows and columns. The open-top pans include downwardly extending sidewalls resulting in a grid-like spacing between lower pan portions. The bottom wall is spaced below bottoms of the open-top pans. The bottom wall includes at least one linear arrangement of openings in the region and aligned with a linear segment of the grid-like spacing. A cooling system is located within the cabinet structure and including at least one blower. A first delivery flow path within the cabinet structure delivers cooled air from the cooling system to an outlet location above the pans toward one of a front and rear side of the region so as to direct a sheet-like air flow over the open-top pans. A second delivery flow path within the cabinet structure delivers cooled air from the cooling system to the linear arrangement of openings such that cooled air is directed upward into the linear segment of the grid-like spacing.

In another aspect, a method of cooling food product at a food preparation location involves providing a cabinet structure with a food preparation surface and a food product storage and display section rearward of the food preparation surface; supporting a plurality of open-top pans in a pan receiving space of the food product storage and display section, the pan receiving space including an upwardly extending front wall, an upwardly extending rear wall and a bottom wall, the plurality of pans including at least three rows of open-top pans, the open-top pans including downwardly extending sidewalls resulting in a grid-like spacing between lower pan portions; operating a cooling unit and moving air through the cooling unit to be cooled; and directing air from the cooling unit through openings in the bottom wall to produce a first flow upward into a first linear segment of the grid-like spacing and a second flow upward into a second linear segment of the grid-like spacing, the first linear spacing spaced apart from and parallel to the second linear segment.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a front view of one embodiment of a food preparation unit;

FIG. 2 is a side view of the food preparation unit of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a cross-sectional perspective view showing air flow within the food preparation unit; and

FIG. 4 is a perspective, exploded view of an assembly including a front wall and bottom wall for use in the food preparation unit of FIG. 1.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Referring to FIG. 1, a food preparation unit 10 includes a cabinet structure 12 with front 14 and rear 16 sides. A food preparation surface 18 extends from the front of the cabinet, typically at a height comparable to counter height as is useful for working with food product. At the rear side of the food preparation surface 18 a food product storage and display section 20 is provided for holding various food items that can be used in food preparation. The storage and display section 20 includes a plurality of food product pans 22 arranged in row and column format. The illustrated unit includes three rows of pans and 11 columns of pans, but variations are possible. All pans in the illustrated unit have a common depth dimension (i.e., front to rear dimension). However, the width dimension of pans 22a is smaller than the width dimension of pans 22b. Again, variations are possible. Depending upon the application in which the unit is to be used, it is also possible that one portion of the storage and display section could be formed with three rows of pans while one or more other portions of the storage and display section is formed with only 1 or 2 rows of pans or with more than 3 rows of pans. In the illustrated embodiment the pans are supported in an inclined manner, but embodiments in which the pans are supported in a non-inclined (i.e., horizontal) manner are also contemplated. Also, while the illustrated section 20 is located to position the pans higher than the surface 18, the section 20 could be arranged such that the pans are even with or even lower than the surface 18.

A central portion of the food preparation surface 18 includes a slotted opening 26 into which scrap food product can be directed for later disposal. The lower portion of the cabinet structure may include a secondary storage area with one or more access doors 28 and/or access drawers 30. A slotted grill 32 is also positioned at the front of the cabinet structure to provide air flow as may be desirable for the cooling system that is located internally of the cabinet structure.

Various food items may be stored in the multiple pans 22 for easy access and food preparation. For example, in an application for pizza making the pans may store the various toppings used for pizzas. The cooling system described below facilitates maintaining the food items stored in the pans at acceptable temperatures.

Referring now to FIG. 2, the storage and display section includes a pan receiving space 31 having an upwardly extending front wall 33, an upwardly extending rear wall 34 and a bottom wall 36 extending from the lower side of the front wall to the lower side of the rear wall. A front pan support surface 38 extends forward of the upper part of the front wall and a pan support surface 40 extends rearward of the upper part of the rear wall. The pan support surfaces may also extend inward toward each other. Pan support framing 40 (e.g., front to back and left to right support rods) is also shown at the upper portion of the pan receiving area to provide additional pan support surfaces as needed to accommodate the column and row grid of pans. Schematic pan profiles 42 are shown in dashed line form. The pans include downwardly extending sidewalls resulting in a grid-like spacing between lower pan portions as reflected by gaps 44. The bottom wall 36 is spaced below bottoms of the open-top pans and includes linear arrangements 46 and 48 of openings aligned with the gaps 44. In the illustrated embodiment the linear opening arrangements 46 and 48 extend left to right on the unit to align with left to right linear segments of the grid-like spacing between lower pan portions. However, it is contemplated the front to back linear opening arrangements could be provided to align with front to back linear segments of the grid-like spacing between lower pan portions.

A cooling system/unit is shown at 50 and includes an associated blower for moving air. Cooled air exits the cooling unit 50 at location 52 and a portion 54 of the air is directed upward to storage and display section 20 and a portion 56 of the air is directed downward into the secondary storage area. Air traveling upward to the storage and display section 20 follows one of three delivery flow paths. One delivery flow path directs to an air outlet location 60 that has a flow directing flange 62 thereabove to direct the exiting cool air in a sheet-like manner above the open-top pans as indicated by arrows 64. Another delivery flow path directs air to an outlet location 66 proximate the top of rear wall 34, but at a location to deliver air into the pan receiving area below the pan lips as indicated by arrow 68. A final delivery flow path directs air to the linear opening arrangements 46 and 48 via a duct 70 as indicated by arrow 72. Cooled air exiting the opening arrangements 46 and 48 is directed upward into the aligned linear segments of the grid-like spacing between lower pan portions as shown by arrows 74 to aid in avoiding a temperature gradient condition being established in the grid-like spacing. As seen in FIG. 2, the three delivery flow paths partially overlap.

Air from the sheet-like air flow is drawn back into the cabinet structure at an inlet location 80 as indicated by arrow 82. Air from the flow paths into the pan receiving area exits the pan receiving area at an intake location 84 located proximate to the top of front wall 33, but below the pan lips as indicated by arrow 86. The two return air flows join and follow a common return flow path as indicated by arrows 88, entering the secondary storage area before again passing through the cooling unit 50. Alternatively, the returning air could be directed back to the cooling unit 50 without entering the secondary storage area, and air flow 56 could be eliminated, with a second cooling unit being provided for cooling the secondary storage area.

The bottom wall may be installed so as to be readily removable for cleaning below the wall, specifically in the duct 70. Alternatively, the duct may be configured for simple removal from below.

FIG. 4 illustrates an L-shaped member 90 formed by a bent plate that forms the front wall 33 and the bottom wall 36. The duct 70 is formed between tray member 92 and the bottom wall 36. The tray member 92 has inwardly extending flanges 94 that are connected to the bottom wall 36 with fasteners 96. The fasteners 96 enable the tray member 92 to be removed for ease of cleaning. In one arrangement, the fasteners 96 may be screws, but a quick release fastener could also be used. The tray member 92 has an open side 98 that for receiving air flow into the duct 70 as described above.

Intake location 84 includes an array of intake openings 100 for receiving air from within the pan receiving space 31. Openings 102 located at an upper ledge 104 of the front wall 33 receive air flowing over the pans 42. A front flow directing flange 106 directs the air toward the openings 102.

It is to be clearly understood that the above description is intended by way of illustration and example only and is not intended to be taken by way of limitation. Other changes and modifications could be made, including both narrowing and broadening variations and modifications of the appended claims.