Title:
Container for food products and method for transporting food products
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The invention relates to a container for food products, especially for sterile basic food substances, comprising a tank and an inliner interchangeably arranged in the tank for receiving the product. The invention also relates to a method for transporting food products in such a container. Moreover, the invention relates to a tank and an inliner for use in a container for food products. Such a container facilitates the transport, and the amounts of energy needed to clean the container are considerably reduced.



Inventors:
Wild, Hans-peter (Eppelheim, DE)
Tilz, Wolfgang (Schwetzingen, DE)
Application Number:
11/416560
Publication Date:
01/10/2008
Filing Date:
05/02/2006
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
220/9.1
International Classes:
B65D30/10
View Patent Images:
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20060006134Cap and straw combinationJanuary, 2006Luo
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20090090741Vessel having CO2 compressed gas sourceApril, 2009Oberhofer et al.
20020066736Refuse receptacle with integrated replacement liner retaining and dispensing meansJune, 2002Pyles
20080190951Container having foldable lidAugust, 2008Gallagher et al.
20060151496Multi-receptacle drinking cup and strawsJuly, 2006Healy et al.



Primary Examiner:
NICHOLS II, ROBERT K
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
STROOCK & STROOCK & LAVAN LLP (NEW YORK, NY, US)
Claims:
1. A container suitable for storing sterile food products, the container comprising a tank and an inliner within the tank, the inliner suitable for receiving the food products.

2. The container according to claim 1, wherein the inliner is selectively removable from the tank.

3. The container according to claim 1, wherein the tank comprises a tapering in the lower portion of the tank, the tapering comprising an outlet opening.

4. The container according to claim 3, wherein the tank comprises an upright tank and the outlet opening comprises a substantially vertical outlet opening is oriented substantially vertically.

5. The container according to claim 3, wherein the outlet opening has a diameter of at least 10 cm.

6. The container according to claim 1, wherein the tank comprises at least one observation window.

7. The container according to claim 1, wherein the tank comprises a holding device for holding the inliner in the tank.

8. The container according to claim 1, wherein the tank comprises a lid with a closable opening for passing an inliner therethrough.

9. The container according to claim 1, wherein the tank comprises a bottom with a closable opening for passing an inliner therethrough.

10. The container according to 1, wherein the inliner comprises an outlet nozzle having a closing device comprising a membrane or a bursting disk, the closing device suitable for keeping the inner surface of the inliner sterile.

11. The container according to claim 10, wherein the tank comprises an outlet opening and wherein the outlet nozzle has a smaller outer diameter than the outlet opening of the tank.

12. The container to claim 10, wherein the tank comprises an outlet opening and wherein the container comprises a centering disk suitable for centering the outlet nozzle in the outlet opening of the tank.

13. The container according to claim 12, wherein the centering disk is formed integrally with the outlet nozzle.

14. The container according to claim 12, wherein the centering disk has an opening suitable for receiving the outlet nozzle.

15. The container according to claim 12, wherein the outlet nozzle includes a projecting portion which projects from the tank outwardly from the centering disk.

16. The container according to claim 15, comprising a valve device constructed and arranged to be mounted on the projecting portion of the outlet nozzle.

17. The container according to claim 16, wherein the container comprises a mounted state wherein at least one seal is located between the outlet nozzle and the valve device.

18. The container according to claim 10, wherein the tank comprises an outlet opening and wherein the container comprises a fixing element constructed and arranged to fix the outlet nozzle to the outlet opening.

19. The container according to claim 18, wherein the fixing element fixes the outlet nozzle to the outlet opening to be torsion-resistant.

20. The container according to claim 18, wherein the fixing element forms a seal between the valve device and the outlet nozzle.

21. The container according to claim 1, wherein the inliner comprises an overpressure safety element.

22. The container according to claim 21, wherein the overpressure safety element communicates with the outside of the tank.

23. The container according to claim 1, wherein the inliner comprises a holding element constructed and arranged to fix the inliner to the upper half of the tank.

24. The container according to claims 23, wherein the holding element includes the overpressure safety element.

25. An inliner for receiving food products, the inliner constructed and arranged to be placed within a container, the inliner comprising a food product compatible plastic foil, and a sterilized outlet nozzle.

26. The inliner according to claim 25, wherein the outlet nozzle comprises a closing device, for keeping the inner surface of the inliner sterile.

27. The inliner according to claim 25, wherein the outlet nozzle comprises a closing device comprising a membrane or bursting disk to break under a predetermined pressure load free of shreds.

28. The inliner according to claim 25, comprising an overpressure safety element.

29. The inliner according to claim 25, comprising a holding element constructed and arranged to fix the inliner inside the tank.

30. The inliner according to claim 29, wherein the tank includes an outlet opening, and wherein the holding element comprises a marking for indicating the orientation under which the inliner is inserted into the tank of the container with respect to the orientation of the outlet opening, wherein the outlet nozzle is adjacent to the outlet opening after the inliner has been inserted.

31. The inliner according to claim 25, wherein the inliner is folded when empty such that the inliner adapts to the inner wall of the tank in a crease-free manner when filled with the food product.

32. The inliner according to claim 25, the inliner comprising one or more folds and further comprises a rubber band or an adhesive strip on the inliner to at least partially unfold the inliner depending on the filling level.

33. The inliner according to claim 25, comprising an outlet nozzle comprising a weldable plastic, an overpressure safety element comprising a weldable plastic, and/or a holding means comprising a weldable plastic.

34. A tank for use in a container for storing food products, the tank comprising a funneled outlet in the lower portion of the tank, the funneled outlet having an outlet opening which is arranged eccentrically.

35. The tank according to claim 34, wherein the tank comprises at least one device for aeration and/or deaeration.

36. A method for transporting food products in a container, the method comprising transporting the food products in an inliner in the interior of a tank.

37. A method of filling or, evacuating the container having an inliner for storing sterile food products, the the method comprising: disinfecting a region from a connecting piece to a closing device of an outlet nozzle of the inliner; subsequently connecting the connecting piece to the outlet nozzle for connecting a filling or evacuation device.

38. The method according to claim 37, wherein the connecting piece comprises a valve device; the method further comprising introducing a disinfectant through the valve device, when the valve is in an opened position, and into a space between the valve device and the closing device, and closing the valve and maintaining the disinfectant in the space, then filling or evacuating the container.

39. The method for filling the container having an inliner having an outlet nozzle, the container being suitable for storing sterile food products, the method comprising: docking a filling device, deaerating a space between the inliner and the tank, and filling the inliner via the outlet.

40. The method for evacuating a container having an inliner having an outlet nozzle, the container being suitable for storing sterile food products, the method comprising: docking an evacuation device, aerating the space between the inliner and the tank, and evacuating the inliner via the outlet nozzle.

41. The container according to claim 1, wherein the tank comprises a funneled outlet.

42. The container according to claim 3, wherein the outlet opening is arranged eccentrically.

43. The container according to claim 3, wherein the outlet opening is constructed to permit a human hand to grip therethrough.

44. The container according to claim 3, wherein the outlet opening has a diameter of between about 12 cm and 16 cm.

45. The container according to claim 3, wherein the outlet comprises an observation window.

46. The container according to claim 1, wherein the tank comprises a lid having a holding device.

47. The container according to claim 14, wherein the opening is located eccentrically.

48. The container according to claim 1, wherein the inliner comprises an overpressure safety element comprising a pressure relief valve.

49. The inliner according to claim 25, comprising an overpressure safety element comprising a bursting disk or a safety valve.

50. The inliner according to claim 28, wherein the overpressure safety element includes a pressure relief valve.

51. The inliner according to claim 28, wherein the tank includes an outlet opening, and wherein the overpressure safety element comprises a marking for indicating the orientation under which the inliner is inserted into the tank of the container with respect to the orientation of the outlet opening, wherein the outlet nozzle is adjacent to the outlet opening after the inliner has been inserted.

52. The inliner according to claim 25, comprising Polyethylene and/or polypropylene.

Description:

TECHNICAL FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The invention relates to a container for food products and to a method for transporting food products by using a tank.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Conventionally, food products, especially liquid or flowable food products, are transported in tanks for transporting them from the manufacturer or distributor, respectively, to the user. As high hygienic standards are frequently set with respect to the transport of food products, sterilized tanks have to be used for certain product families. Conventionally, this is effected by steaming the interior of the tank. The sterilization method thereby takes 20 to 30 minutes per tank, and enormous amounts of energy, especially in the form of vapor, are required therefor.

Apart from this laborious sterilization method the conventional tanks have additional drawbacks. The tank emptied by the user must be cleaned after it has been returned to the manufacturer. This may involve a large amount of labor, especially due to the product built-ups at the inner walls of the tank. Moreover, the tanks must be checked regularly for their functionality, e.g. the leak proofness of the tank must be checked, since not only product can escape through a leaky tank, but a germination in the product may occur when the tank is penetrated by germs-containing air.

Therefore, it is the object of the present invention to provide a container for food products comprising a tank, which requires a less laborious sterilization method and can be reused faster after its evacuation. Another object of the invention is to provide a corresponding transport method.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

These objects are achieved with the container according to claim 1, the inliner according to claim 25 and the tank according to claim 34, and with the method for transporting food products according to claim 36 and the methods for preparing a filling and evacuation, respectively, and for filling and evacuating a container according to claims 37, 39 and 40.

According to the invention a container therefore comprises a tank and an inliner interchangeably arranged in the tank for receiving the product. Above all, containers are concerned which are used for the transport from the manufacturer of a food product to the finishing plant or distributor, respectively. Such containers are especially used for the transport of basic food substances, e.g. fruit or fruit piece preparations. In this connection it should be noted that with sterile products not only the production, but also the transport has to be accomplished under sterile conditions.

Moreover, such containers are preferably reusable containers, i.e. no disposable containers, such as bag-in-box packagings, which are used for the final consumer sale of wine or fruit juices and which are not intended for reuse.

Due to the fact that the food product is no longer filled directly into the tank, but is placed inside an inliner located in the tank, the sterilization of the interior of the tank, which requires time and energy, is omitted. After the inliner has been used, i.e. evacuated, the used inliner is replaced by a new inliner so that a laborious cleaning thereof is also omitted. Also, the standards with respect to the tank, such as the leak proofness or the food-grade of the material used, are no longer as high as those for conventional tanks.

The tank is preferably dimensionally stable, while the inliner is flexible and needs a substantially smaller volume in an empty state as compared to the tank. When filling the inliner the volume thereof is then increased, and the inliner adapts to the inner wall of the tank.

The tank can advantageously be configured such that the inliner can be inserted into and taken out of the tank. After having used the inliner, i.e. after the evacuation, the inliner can thus be removed from the container in a fast and easy manner and a new inliner can be inserted into the tank just as easily.

According to a preferred embodiment the tank may have a tapering, especially funneled outlet disposed in the lower portion of the tank, the outlet opening of which is arranged eccentrically. Eccentric in this respect means that the outlet opening is not arranged in the center of the lower portion of the tank, but is arranged toward the edge in the direction of the side wall of the tank. This facilitates the insertion and removal of the inliner, which is commonly done manually, as the access to the inliner is made easier. Moreover, the funneled configuration of the outlet allows to ensure that as much product as possible can flow out of the inliner or can be pumped out, respectively, during the evacuation. Also, a smooth shape, in the form of a funnel, allows the inliner to adapt to the inner wall of the tank as crease-free as possible when filled with the food product.

With an upright tank, the outlet opening can preferably be oriented substantially vertically. This makes the handling by the user additionally easier and allows an easier docking of a filling or evacuation device, respectively, from the side.

The outlet opening can advantageously be formed with a sufficiently large diameter, so that a human hand may grip therethrough, preferably with a diameter of at least 10 cm, more preferably with a diameter of 12 to 16 cm. A large outlet opening allows the user to grip into the tank, to position an inliner placed inside the tank such that it can be filled safely. The size of the outlet opening can thereby be chosen such that the inliner can be inserted into the tank through the same.

According to a modification the tank may moreover comprise at least one observation window, especially at the outlet. The observation window allows the user to check whether the inliner unfolds correspondingly and adapts to the inner wall of the tank as crease-free as possible during the filling. During the evacuation it may be checked just as easily as to whether the inliner was evacuated entirely.

The tank may favorably comprise a holding device, preferably in the upper half, more preferably on the lid, which serves to hold the inliner in the tank. By the attachment of the inliner in an upper portion of the tank it is prevented that the inliner is filled in an unbalanced manner, so that a smooth placement against the inner wall is further promoted. Also, the inliner is prevented from twisting or knotting up which, in the most unfavorable case, could cause the inliner to burst open.

According to a modification the tank may comprise a lid with a closable opening for passing an inliner therethrough. In this embodiment the inliner is inserted from above through the opening into the tank, and the area through which the product is fed into the inliner is, owing to the large outlet opening through with the user may grip into the tank, aligned with the outlet opening.

According to another modification the tank may comprise a bottom with a closable opening for passing an inliner therethrough, wherein at least one part of the outlet may be provided at the closure of the opening. Similar to the preceding modification the inliner is inserted into the tank by removing the lid or by opening the lid, and the inliner can then be aligned with the outlet opening of the outlet.

According to a preferred embodiment the inliner may comprise an outlet nozzle, said outlet nozzle being provided with a closing device, especially a membrane or a bursting disk, for keeping the inner surface of the inliner sterile. A membrane or bursting disk has thereby proved to be particularly advantageous, because they may be pushed or broken through by the food product itself during the filling, so that the interior of the inliner is protected against environmental effects up to the last moment. Especially with sterile basic food substances a sufficient hygiene can thus be guaranteed.

Preferably, the outlet nozzle may have a smaller outer diameter than the outlet opening of the tank. This is particularly useful if the inliner is inserted through the opening in the lid or in the bottom, as the outlet nozzle then has to be brought to the outlet opening of the outlet from inside. The user can grip into the tank through the large outlet opening, take the outlet nozzle into his hand and then pass it to the outlet opening.

Preferably, a centering disk may be used to center the outlet nozzle in the outlet opening of the tank. As the outlet nozzle has a smaller outer diameter it is ensured by means of the centering disk that the outlet nozzle sits at its intended position and that no tensions caused by displacements of the outlet nozzle will occur on the inliner during the filling or the evacuation, respectively, which may result in the bursting of the inliner in the worst case. The centering is preferably accomplished by a positive connection between the centering disk and the outlet nozzle.

According to a modification the centering disk may be formed integrally with the outlet nozzle. In this modification, an inliner is fully inserted through the outlet opening, i.e. a closable opening in the bottom or the lid is not necessary. At the same time, the outlet nozzle can be positioned correctly with the centering disk.

An opening in the centering disk for receiving the outlet nozzle can advantageously have an eccentric arrangement. As the outlet opening has a larger outer diameter than the outlet nozzle, it is an advantage if the opening is arranged eccentrically in the centering disk so as to allow the arrangement of the outlet nozzle of the inliner at the outlet opening as far down as possible, which supports a complete evacuation of the inliner.

Preferably a portion of the outlet nozzle of the tank may project outwardly from the centering disk. A filling or evacuation device can then directly or indirectly be attached to this portion of the outlet nozzle.

According to a modification a valve device may be mounted on the projecting portion of the outlet nozzle. If a conventional valve device is used, like one provided on conventional tanks, standard filling and evacuation devices may be used without having to provide additional adapters.

In the mounted-on state at least one seal may favorably be disposed between the outlet nozzle and the valve device. Thus, an escape of the food product is prevented.

According to a preferred embodiment a fixing device for fixing the outlet nozzle to the outlet opening may be provided. The fixing device can favorably fix the outlet nozzle to the outlet opening in a torsion-resistant manner. By this measure it is prevented that tensions can occur during the filling or evacuation of the inliner which, in the worst case, may result in tears in the inliner.

According to a modification the fixing device may also fix the valve device to the outlet nozzle in a sealing manner. Thus, only one fixing device is required to fix the centering disk, the outlet nozzle and the valve device to the tank.

According to a preferred embodiment the inliner may comprise an overpressure safety means, especially a bursting disk or safety valve, preferably a pressure relief valve. Thus, an overfilling of the inliner, which could result in an overpressure and, in the worst case, in the burst of the inliner, can be prevented.

The overpressure safety means can advantageously communicate with the outside of the tank. This ensures that, in the case of an overfilling, escaping food product does not contaminate the inside of the tank. A cleaning of the inside thereby involves substantially more work than a cleaning of the outside of the tank. Moreover, when food product escapes, it is easily recognized by means of the overpressure safety means that the filling of the inliner has to be stopped.

The inliner can favorably comprise a holding means for fixing the inliner to the tank, especially in the upper half of the tank. By means of this holding means, if appropriate together with the holding device of the tank, the inliner can be mounted in the tank in a suspended manner so that an adaptation to the inner wall of the tank as crease-free as possible is allowed.

The overpressure safety means can favorably be provided on the holding means. Thus, apart from the outlet nozzle, another device must be mounted at the inliner only at a second location, in this case the overpressure safety means together with the holding means. This optimizes the production of the inliner.

The invention likewise relates to an inliner for use in a container as described above. The inliner according to the invention is made of a food-grade plastic foil, especially of polypropylene or polyethylene, respectively, with a sterilized outlet nozzle. As the container according to the invention obtains its stability from the tank, no dimensionally stable material is required for receiving the food product, but conventional plastics suited for the transport of foodstuffs, can be used. As the food product is moreover transported inside the tank, no additional light protection, such as an aluminum foil, is required on the inliner. Hence, the inliner can be preferably made of plastic only.

The outlet nozzle can favorably comprise a closing device, especially a membrane or bursting disk, for keeping the inner surface of the inliner sterile. A membrane or bursting disk has thereby proved to be particularly advantageous, because they may be pushed or broken through by the food product itself during the filling, so that the interior of the inliner is protected against environmental effects up to the last moment. Especially with sterile basic food substances a sufficient hygiene can thus be guaranteed.

If a membrane or bursting disk is used, the membrane or bursting disk, respectively, may be configured to break free of shreds under a predetermined pressure load. Thus, it is prevented that fragments of the membrane or the bursting disk, respectively, can get into the inliner thereby contaminating the food product. Preferably, the membrane or bursting disk, respectively, may additionally be designed such that the parts of the membrane or bursting disk, respectively, cannot overlap when the inliner is evacuated. Thus, an impediment of the evacuation can be prevented.

According to a preferred embodiment the inliner may comprise an overpressure safety means, especially a bursting disk or safety valve, preferably a pressure relief valve. Thus, an overfilling of the inliner, which could result in an overpressure and, in the worst case, in the burst of the inliner, can be prevented.

The inliner can favorably comprise a holding means for fixing the inliner inside a tank. By means of this holding means, if appropriate together with a holding device of the tank, the inliner can be mounted in the tank in a suspended manner so that an adaptation to the inner wall of the tank as crease-free as possible is allowed.

According to a preferred embodiment a marking may be provided on the holding means and/or the overpressure safety means, which indicates the orientation under which the inliner is to be inserted into the tank of the container with respect to the orientation of the outlet opening so that, after the inliner has been inserted, the outlet nozzle is adjacent to the outlet opening. If the inliner is inserted into the tank from above, the user is able to recognize by means of the marking for which orientation of the inliner the outlet nozzle is placed opposite the outlet opening in the lower portion of the tank. Thus, it is prevented that the inliner is twisted or knotted up inside the tank, so that a filling as crease-free as possible is allowed.

The empty inliner can favorably be folded such that the inliner adapts to the inner wall of the tank in a crease-free manner during the filling with the food product. Especially a Z-shaped folding has shown that the inliner can adapt to the inner wall of the tank as crease-free as possible.

Advantageously, at least one adhesive strip or at least one rubber band may be arranged on the folded inliner to unfold the inliner only partially, depending on the filling level. If the product flows into the inliner, the portion not held together by adhesive strips or rubber bands unfolds first. Thus, it is achieved that the inliner adapts at the bottom of the tank first before the liquid rises upwardly, which, again, limits the formation of creases.

According to a preferred embodiment the outlet nozzle, the overpressure safety system and/or the holding means may be made of a weldable plastic. Thus, they are inexpensive to manufacture and can be disinfected by irradiation.

The invention also relates to a tank for use in a container as described above. The tank according to the invention comprises a tapering, especially funneled outlet arranged in the lower portion of the tank, the outlet opening of which is arranged eccentrically. Because of the eccentric outlet opening, as described above already, the access to the inliner is made easier. By this, the inliner in the container can easily be aligned with the outlet opening. Moreover, the funneled outlet allows a completely as possible evacuation of the inliner.

The tank can favorably comprise at least one aerating and/or deaerating device. As the inliner takes up food product during the filling, the corresponding volume must be able to escape from the tank. This is achieved with a deaerating device. Also, an aerating device is provided for the evacuation to avoid a formation of negative pressure.

The invention also relates to a method for transporting food products in a container, which is characterized in that the food product is transported in an inliner interchangeably arranged in the interior of a tank. Due to the fact that the food product is no longer filled directly into the tank, but is placed inside an inliner located in the tank, the sterilization of the interior of the tank, which requires time and energy, is omitted. After the inliner has been used, i.e. evacuated, the used inliner is replaced by a new inliner so that a laborious cleaning thereof is also omitted.

The invention further relates to a method for preparing a filling or evacuation, respectively, of a container as described above, wherein a connecting piece is connected to the outlet nozzle of the inliner serving to connect a filling or evacuation device, respectively, characterized in that the region from the connecting piece to the closing device of the outlet nozzle is disinfected prior to connecting a filling or evacuation device, respectively. This is necessary to disinfect the entire container, as the inliner is sterile only on its insides, which is ensured by the closing device. However, the space therebetween also has to comply with hygienic standards and must be disinfected correspondingly. To this end, a cold disinfection is advantageously performed by spraying on a disinfecting solution.

The connecting piece can advantageously be the valve device, wherein a disinfectant is introduced through the opened valve device into a space between the valve device and the closing device and the valve device is closed afterwards, so that the disinfectant remains in the space until the filling or evacuation, respectively. Thus, the intermediate area is not only disinfected shortly before the filling or evacuation, respectively, but it is kept sterile over a longer period of time.

The invention moreover relates to a method for filling a container as described above, comprising the steps: docking a filling device, deaerating the space between the inliner and the tank and filling the inliner through the outlet nozzle of the inliner.

The invention also relates to a method for evacuating a container as described above, comprising the steps: docking an evacuation device, aerating the space between the inliner and the tank and evacuating the inliner through the outlet nozzle of the inliner.

An embodiment of the invention is illustrated in the drawing and will be explained below. In the drawings:

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1a shows a front view of a container for food products according to the invention;

FIG. 1b shows a side view of a container for food products according to the invention;

FIG. 2a shows a top view of an unfolded inliner according to the invention;

FIG. 2b shows a lateral cross-sectional view of the inliner according to the invention;

FIG. 3a shows a cross-section of an inventive configuration of a tank of the container shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 3b is an exploded cross-sectional view of the lower portion of the container of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3c is an exploded cross-sectional view of an upper portion of the container of FIG. 1;

FIG. 4 schematically shows a cross-section of a filled inliner in the tank of the container according to the invention;

FIG. 5 shows a flow chart for explaining an inventive method for inserting the inliner in the tank;

FIG. 6 shows a flow chart for explaining an inventive method for filling the container according to the invention; and

FIG. 7 shows a flow chart for explaining an inventive method for evacuating the container according to the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF A PREFERRED EMBODIMENT

FIG. 1a shows a front view of a container 1 according to the invention for the transport of food products. FIG. 1b shows a side view of the container 1. The containers serve especially the transport of food products, such as fruit preparations which may also include fruit pieces. When using these basic substances in pH-neutral products, such as pudding etc., a sterilized container is required.

In the container 1 according to the invention, the product is no longer filled into a tank 3 directly, but is filled into an inliner (will be described later) interchangeably arranged in the tank 3.

The container 1 according to the invention is based on a conventional standard container, to which, in the embodiment illustrated in FIGS. 1a and 1b, changes have, however, been introduced in the bottom and lid portion.

The container 1 comprises a tank 3, a pedestal 5, an outlet 7 in the lower portion of the tank 3 which, in this embodiment, is funneled, and a lid portion 9 having an opening closable by a closure 11.

For the transport of food products the tank 3 has a volume of approximately 1000 l. Depending on the product, however, also smaller and larger tanks may be provided. The tank 3 is designed for an operating overpressure of approximately 1 bar and has a permissible operating temperature range of approximately −20° C. to +130° C. The tank 3 is preferably made of metal, especially of aluminum or special steel.

The funneled outlet 7 is either integrally formed with the tank 3 or is a separate component which may be attached to the tank 3 in the lower portion thereof in a sealing manner. An observation window 13 is provided at the outlet 7, which serves to check the filling of the container 1. Additional observation windows 13 could also be arranged on the side wall of the tank 3.

In a lower portion of the outlet 7 an outlet opening 15 is arranged eccentrically, i.e. off-center toward the side edge of the tank 3. At this outlet opening 15 a connecting flange serves to fix an inliner (will be described later) placed in the tank 3 by means of a centering disk (will be described later). A valve device 17 may be connected to the inliner in a sealing manner, which serves to fill and evacuate the inliner by means of a filling or evacuation device (not illustrated). This filling or evacuation device is attached to a connecting piece 19. For example, a flap valve serves as the valve device 17.

In this embodiment, the lid portion 9 is provided with two valves 21, 23, with one valve serving as safety valve and the other valve as filling and evacuating valve, respectively. The opening provided in the lid portion 9 is closed with the closure 11. A bayonet catch may serve the fast opening and closing, which moreover allows a predetermined alignment of the closure 11 with respect to the tank 3. The closure 11 has, in turn, an opening as well, through which a holding means 25 on the inliner placed in the interior of the tank may be passed. The holding means 25 is fixed to the closure 11 by means of a union nut 27. The closure 11 and the union nut 27 are preferably designed such that the tank 3 is sealed in the closed state.

According to a modification, at least one of the valves 21, 23 may also be arranged on the closure 11. Moreover, the lid portion 9 may be provided with a stacker allowing a stacking of the container 1. Also, a holding device for fixing the inliner may be provided on the tank 3.

FIGS. 2a and 2b schematically show a top view and a cross-sectional view of an inliner 31 according to the invention, which can interchangeably be arranged in the tank 3 of the container 1 shown in FIG. 1. In this embodiment, the inliner is produced from three product-compatible plastic foils lying in one another. Polyethylene (PP) and polypropylene (PE) are particularly suitable materials. As the inliner 31 is used inside the container 1, the presence of an additional metallic coating, e.g. an aluminum coating, as light protection for the product is not necessary. The inliner 31 can therefore be made of plastic only.

On one end portion the inliner 31 is provided with an outlet nozzle 33 through which a product can be filled into the inliner 31 or discharged therefrom, respectively. The inliner 31 is welded to the outlet nozzle 33. The outlet nozzle 33, which is positioned between the valve device 17 and the rest of the inliner 31 after its installation in the container shown in FIG. 1, likewise has to meet aseptic requirements for the transport of foodstuffs. The outlet nozzle 33 is therefore made, for example, of a food-grade plastic and can be sterilized by means of γ-irradiation.

To prevent the inside 32 of the inliner 31 from communicating with air prior to the use, the opening of the outlet nozzle 33 is closed with a closing device 35. For example, a membrane or bursting disk may serve as closing device 35. These have the advantage that they can be broken or torn open, respectively, by the incoming food product stream, so that the interior of the inliner 31 remains sterile up to the last moment. To prevent any membrane or bursting disk material from getting into the interior of the inliner 31 the membrane or bursting disk, respectively, is constructed to bulge in a uniform manner and burst open free of shreds. If the product is pumped out again of the inliner 31, the closing device 35 is further configured to prevent the fragments from clogging the outlet nozzle 33.

Moreover, a sealing device 37, e.g. an O-ring or double O-ring, is formed on the outlet nozzle 33, which serves to connect the outlet nozzle 33 with the valve device 17 shown in FIG. 1 in a sealing manner.

On the opposite end portion the inliner 31 is provided with the holding means 25, which had already been described in connection with FIGS. 1a and 1b, and which serves to fix the inliner 31 to the top of tank 3. In the embodiment of the inliner 31 shown in FIGS. 2a and 2b, respectively, the holding means 25 additionally comprises an overpressure safety means 39. It allows overpressure, possibly occurring in the inliner 31 in case of an overfilling, to escape. Just like the outlet nozzle 33, the holding means 25 and the overpressure safety means 39, too, are made of plastic and can be sterilized by irradiation.

Suited as overpressure safety means 39 is a safety valve or, in a simple embodiment, likewise a bursting disk. The set pressure for the overpressure safety means 39 commonly is in the range of approximately 1.5 bar overpressure.

As is shown in FIG. 1, the inliner 31 is attached to the tank 3 by the union nut 27. To this end, a thread 41 is formed on the holding means 25.

The volume V and the shape of the inliner 31 are adapted to the volume and the shape of the tank 3. Thus, an unnecessary occurrence of creases at the inner wall of the tank 3 can be suppressed when the inliner 31 is filled.

The occurrence of creases can additionally be prevented if the inliner 31 is specially folded in its longitudinal direction L, especially in a Z-shaped manner, and/or is constricted in a predetermined manner in the lower portion by a rubber band or the like, e.g. adhesive strips, to allow the inliner 31 to adopt the shape of the lower portion of the tank 3 first when being filled, before material of the inliner 31 is undone further up.

In the following, the attachment of an inliner 31 in the tank 3 to the outlet opening 15 and closure 11 will be explained in more detail by means of FIGS. 3a and 3c.

FIG. 3a shows a cross-section of the container 1 at the height of the outlet opening 15. Elements having reference numerals identical with those in FIG. 1a or 1b correspond to the elements already explained in detail before and will, therefore, not be explained in detail anymore. The outlet 7 is, in this embodiment, formed integrally with the tank 3, and the outlet opening 15 is arranged eccentrically with respect to the center axis M of the tank 3. With an upright container 1 the opening 15 is vertical. Thus, the outlet opening is easily accessible. This facilitates the attachment and the orientation of the inliner 31.

As is shown in FIG. 3a, an inliner 31 can be introduced into the interior of the tank through the opening 43 in the lid portion 9 of the tank 3. A rubber band 45 is schematically shown on the inliner 31, which constricts the lower portion of the inliner 31 such that the inliner 31 first adapts in the bottom portion of the tank 3 to the limiting wall thereof when being filled. A marking 46 is provided on the holding means 25. It is provided such that the user, who introduces the inliner 31 topside, simultaneously knows where the outlet nozzle 33 is located with respect to the outlet opening 15. Thus, it can be prevented that the inliner 31 is arranged in the tank 3 in a twisted state.

In the embodiment of the tank 3 of the container 1 shown in FIG. 3a an inliner 31 is introduced from above and is fixed to the outlet nozzle 33 in the lower portion and, in the upper portion, with the holding means 25 to the tank 3. The invention is not limited to this possibility, however. Alternatively, if the outlet opening 15 is large enough, the inliner 31 may entirely be inserted through the opening 15. In this case one could do without a modification of the lid portion 9 of the tank 3. However, in the aligned state, the overpressure safety means 39 would then also have to placed on the outlet opening 15. According to a second modification, the bottom portion of the tank 3, especially the outlet 7, could also be configured to be detachable from the rest of the tank 3, which is suggested by a broken line in the drawing. In this case, too, the lid portion 9 of the tank 3 need not be modified, and the inliner 31 could be inserted into the outlet 7 if the bottom portion is detached.

Below, the alignment and the attachment of the outlet nozzle 33 in the outlet opening 15 will be described in connection with FIG. 3b, and the alignment and attachment of the holding means 25 of the inliner 31 in the upper portion of the tank 3 will be described in connection with FIG. 3c.

FIG. 3b shows an exploded cross-sectional view of the lower portion of the tank 3 of FIG. 3a. FIG. 3b illustrates how the outlet nozzle 33 of the inliner 31 is passed from the interior of the tank 3 through the outlet opening 15 as to attach the inliner 31 in the lower portion of the tank 3 to the outlet opening 15.

As can be seen in FIG. 3b, the outlet opening 15 has a larger cross-section than the outer diameter of the outlet nozzle 33. The outlet opening 15 is especially designed such that a user of the container 1 may grip with his hand into the interior of the tank to be able to grab the outlet nozzle 33 and pull it through the outlet opening 15. The outlet opening 15 especially has a diameter of at least 10 cm, and is preferably within the range of 12 cm to 16 cm.

In order to prevent an unnecessary load on the welding seams of the inliner 31, the outlet nozzle 33 is centered by a centering disk 47, preferably in a positive manner, in the outlet opening 15. The through-opening 49 of the centering disk 47 is thereby eccentric so that the outlet nozzle 33 is placed as closely as possible at the lower edge 51 of the outlet opening 15. This facilitates the evacuation of the inliner 31 since the outlet nozzle 33 of an upright container 1 is thus arranged as far down as possible.

In the modification, according to which the inliner 31 is introduced through the outlet opening 15, the outlet nozzle 33 and the centering disk 47 may also be formed integrally.

In an attached state, seen from the interior of the tank, a portion of the outlet nozzle 33 projects outwardly from the centering disk 47. Onto this projecting portion, on which also the seal 37 is located, the valve device 17 is then fixed in a sealing manner. Here, for instance, a flap valve having a flap 53 is used as valve device 17. Via a connection thread 55 a filling or evacuation device, respectively, can be connected to the valve device 17.

The attachment of the outlet nozzle 33 to the outlet 7 should be as torsion-resistant as possible. Therefore, e.g. a bayonet catch between the connecting flange 57 and the centering disk 47 is suited. The valve device 17 can be attached either to the centering disk 47 or to the connecting flange 57 by means of a clip seal.

Prior to a filling with a food product it must be ensured that, in the assembled state, the space between the flap 53 and the closing device 35 of the inliner 31 is likewise cleaned or sterilized, respectively, in compliance with the product requirements. To this end, for instance, a disinfectant may be sprayed into this space which, after closing the valve device 17, then remains in the space and is removed from the space only during the filling or evacuation, respectively.

FIG. 3c shows an exploded cross-sectional view of the upper portion of the tank 3 of FIG. 3a. FIG. 3c illustrates how the holding means in the lid portion 9 of the container 1 fixes the inliner 31 to the tank 3.

The holding means 25 is inserted through the opening in the closure 11 and is attached to the closure 11 by a union nut 27 in a torsion-resistant manner. The attachment is accomplished in a sealing manner so as to prevent the food product from escaping if the inliner 31 bursts. Next, the closure 11 is fixed to the lid 9 in a sealing manner. In this case, too, a bayonet catch is advantageous as to prevent undesired torsions of the inliner 31.

As an alternative to the embodiment shown in FIG. 3c the valves 21 and 23 may also be arranged on the closure 11.

FIG. 4 schematically shows the inventive container 1 with a filled inliner 31 in a cross-section. The inliner 31 is adjacent to the inner walls of the tank 3, including the lid portion 9 and the outlet 7. The outlet nozzle 33, together with the valve device 17, is attached to the connecting flange 57 on the tank 3 by means of the centering disk 47. In the lid portion 9 the holding means 25 is attached to the closure 11 which, again, closes the opening in the lid portion 9. The inliner 31 has adopted the shape of the tank 3 in its filled state and is adjacent to the inner wall of the tank 3 in a crease-free manner.

The inventive use of the described container 1 for the transport of food products, especially of sterile basic food substances, will be described below.

The flow chart illustrated in FIG. 5 serves to explain the method for inserting the inliner 31 into a tank 3 of a container 1 according to the invention. In step S1 the closure 11 is removed from the lid portion 9 of the tank 3. Next, in step S2, the holding means 25 is passed through the opening in the closure 11 from the inside to the outside and is fixed to the closure 11 in a sealing manner by means of the union nut 27. Then, in step S3, the inliner 31 is inserted into the tank 3 from above in a freely suspended manner. In this respect care must be taken that the marking 46 is oriented such that the outlet nozzle 33 is opposite the outlet opening 15. This means that, in the installed state, the inliner 31 hangs in the tank 3 in a straight manner and that no warpings occur during the filling. Then, in step S4, the closure 11 is fixed to the lid 9 in a torsion-resistant manner by means of the bayonet catch.

In the following steps the inliner 31 now hanging in the tank 3 will be fixed to the outlet opening 15 of the tank 3. To this end, the outlet nozzle 33 is pulled out through the outlet opening 15 of the tank 3 in step S5. As the outlet opening 15 is large enough, one can grip into the tank 3 with one's hand, grab the outlet nozzle 33 and move it to the outlet opening. Then, in step S6, the outlet nozzle 33 is centered in the outlet opening 15 by means of the centering disk 47. By means of the bayonet catch the outlet nozzle 33, which is positively arranged in the centering disk, can then be fixed to the connecting flange 57 in a torsion-resistant manner (step S7).

A cap possibly provided on the outlet nozzle 33 is stripped off, and the valve device 17 is placed upon the outlet nozzle 33 (step S8). The valve device 17, e.g. a flap valve, is then fixed to the outlet nozzle 33, the centering disk 47 or the connecting flange 57 by means of a clip seal (step S9).

As the outlet nozzle 33 and the valve device 17 should be sterile, the interior space between the valve device 17 and the closing device 35 is disinfected with a suitable disinfecting solution through the opened valve 17 in step S10. This can, for instance, be done by spraying the solution thereon. To prevent the disinfecting solution from flowing out the valve device 17 is closed afterwards. Up to the further use, moreover, a blind-off cap may be screwed onto the connection thread 55 of the valve device 17.

In a next step, the container prepared in such a way can now be filled. The filling method according to the invention is explained by means of the flow chart of FIG. 6. First, in step S20, the blind-off cap screwed onto the connection thread 55 is removed. Next, in step 21, a filling device is docked with the connection thread 55. In order to prevent the pressure in the tank 3 from increasing excessively when the inliner 31 is filled the tank 3 is deaerated by means of the valve 21, 23 (S22).

If the valve device 17 is closed the assembly is then steamed. The disinfecting solution in the space between the valve device and the closing device 35 should thereby evaporate simultaneously so as to additionally sterilize the air space in the space (step S23). After this step a sterilized environment in the container 1 is ensured.

Then, in step S24, the flap 53 of the valve device 17 is opened and the food product flows into the interior of the inliner 31 upon breaking through the closing device 35. Thereupon, the inliner 31 is filled in step S25. The filling can thereby be observed and controlled through the observation window 13. Due to the incoming product volume the inliner 31 opens and adapts to the inner wall of the tank 3 in a uniform manner, whereby the bottom portion is filled first, since the rubber band 46 initially prevents the inliner 31 from opening further up.

When the desired product volume has flown in, the valve device 17 is closed again and the filling device is removed (step S26).

An overfilling of the inliner 31 is avoided by means of the overpressure safety means 39, which prevents too much incoming product from escaping. In addition, or instead thereof, a pressure monitoring of the pump, which serves to pump the product into the inliner 31, could be checked and the filling could be stopped with an increasing pressure.

Should it be found that the inliner does not properly unfold in the tank 3 during the filling, a small amount of gas can be injected into the inliner by means of a gas pressure surge, e.g. with nitrogen, so that it already adapts to the inner wall prior to the filling. The gas amount should thereby be adjusted such that the safety valve 39 remains closed after the filling.

The filled container 1 can now be loaded, and the food product now located in the inliner inside the tank can be transported to the consumer in a safe manner and under sterilized conditions.

At the consumer the container 1 is then evacuated again in accordance with the flow chart illustrated in FIG. 7.

In step S30, a blind-off cap mounted on the connection thread 55 is removed. Next, in step S31, the evacuation device is docked with the same. When doing so, care must be taken that the portion between the evacuation device and the valve device 17 is disinfected. For this purpose, the same method can be used as for the filling of the tank 3.

Then, in step S32, the tank 3 is aerated via valve 21, 23. This may also take place with the addition of gas, especially nitrogen. For the evacuation, the flap 53 of the valve device 17 is opened and the food product is pumped out through the evacuation device by means of a pump (step S34).

After the inliner 31 in the tank 3 is evacuated, the evacuation device is removed in step S35 and the blind-off cap is again screwed onto the thread 55. Now, the container 1, together with the used inliner 31, can be returned to the manufacturer of the food product.

There, the used inliner 31 is again removed from the tank 3. Prior to the removal it can be found out, possibly by weighing, whether a residual amount is left in the inliner 31. If this amount is too large, it has to be pumped out before taking out the inliner 31. This is accomplished according to the method illustrated in FIG. 7. Next, the valve device 17 is removed from the outlet nozzle 33 and a cap may be placed on the outlet nozzle 33 to prevent existing product residues from flowing out. The closure 11 is removed from the lid portion 9 of the tank 3 just the same, and the union nut 27 is screwed off. The inliner 31 can then be removed from the tank 3 and disposed of. The valve device 17 is cleaned and stored in a germicidal bath. If contaminated, the tank 3 is cleaned as well.

With the inventive container 1, tank 3 and inliner 31 as described, and with the methods as described, it is now no longer necessary to clean the interior of the transport tank upon its return. Particularly the energy-consuming disinfection of containers can be omitted, which have to be sterilized to be able to ensure the observance of hygiene for sterile products. By the use of the inliner, which is removed after use, also the residual evacuation of the container is substantially facilitated, and any built-up of the product on the interior of the tank 3 no longer occurs. Moreover, it is no longer necessary either to sterilize, e.g. by a nitrogen superimposition, the residual volume if the tank 3 is filled only partially.

With food products having a viscosity which is not too high, the filled inliner can possibly be evacuated by means of a compressed air cushion alone, which may be fed via the lid. In this case, the use of a pump would not be necessary. As the product in the inliner 31 is separated from the compressed air, no special demands are made on this compressed air cushion with respect to hygiene.

Due to the unnecessary cleaning less energy, on the one hand, and also less water, on the other hand, is needed, so that the waste water load is strongly reduced.

Moreover, damages to the tank have no effect on the product, since this is protected in the inliner 31. Thus, tanks 3 can be used longer and have to be maintained less frequently. Due to the unnecessary laborious cleansing method the tank is also faster reusable.