Title:
FOOD CHILLING APPARATUS AND METHOD
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An apparatus and method for chilling food is provided. The apparatus includes first, second and third containers which are nestable and stackable. The second and third containers fit within a chamber defined in the first container. The second container is designed for holding ice and the third container is designed for separately holding food. The apparatus is configured so that as the ice in the second container melts, the volume of a subchamber defined between the second and third containers decreases to maintain the remaining ice in contact with an undersurface of the third container holding the food. The food is therefore more effectively and consistently chilled than in prior art designs. In one embodiment, the second container is buoyant. The second container will therefore float on the surface of ice water drained from the second container to the bottom of the first container. The apparatus may be configured to receive multiple food containers and/or multiple ice containers.



Inventors:
Rapaz, Antonio M. (Chilliwack, CA)
Application Number:
11/549893
Publication Date:
04/17/2008
Filing Date:
10/16/2006
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
62/457.6
International Classes:
F25D3/08
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
BAUER, CASSEY D
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
OYEN, WIGGS, GREEN & MUTALA LLP (VANCOUVER, BC, CA)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A chilling apparatus comprising: (a) a first container defining a first chamber; (b) at least one buoyant second container positionable within said first chamber for holding ice thereon; and (c) at least one third container positionable overlying said second container and having an undersurface cooled by said ice, wherein said second and third containers are separable and define a subchamber therebetween, wherein said second container is floatable within said first container to maintain said ice in contact with said undersurface of said third container during melting of said ice.

2. The chilling apparatus as defined in claim 1, wherein water derived from melting of said ice is conveyed from said second container to said first container during said melting.

3. The chilling apparatus as defined in claim 2, wherein the volume of said subchamber decreases during said melting as said water is conveyed.

4. The chilling apparatus as defined in claim 3, wherein said second container comprises a flotation chamber.

5. The chilling apparatus as defined in claim 4, wherein said flotation chamber comprises a sealed air cavity.

6. The chilling apparatus as defined in claim 1, comprising a conduit for draining water from said subchamber to said first chamber during said melting.

7. The chilling apparatus as defined in claim 6, wherein said conduit allows flow of melted ice water between an outer perimeter wall of said second container and an inner wall of said first container defining said first chamber.

8. The chilling apparatus as defined in claim 1, wherein the vertical position of said third container relative to said first container is movable during said melting of said ice.

9. The chilling apparatus as defined in claim 1, wherein the vertical position of said second container relative to said first container is movable during said melting of said ice.

10. The chilling apparatus as defined in claim 1, wherein the vertical positions of said second and third containers relative to said first container are movable during said melting of said ice.

11. The chilling apparatus as defined in claim 1, wherein said third container is supported at a constant elevation relative to said first container.

12. The chilling apparatus as defined in claim 11, wherein said first container comprises a step for supporting a peripheral flange portion of said third container.

13. The chilling apparatus as defined in claim 1, comprising a plurality of second containers positionable in said first chamber.

14. The chilling apparatus as defined in claim 13, comprising a plurality of third containers positionable in said first chamber.

15. The chilling apparatus as defined in claim 14, wherein each of said third containers overlies a corresponding one of said second containers.

16. The chilling apparatus as defined in claim 1, wherein said first, second and third containers are nestable.

17. The chilling apparatus as defined in claim 1, wherein said second container comprises depressions formed in opposed sidewalls thereof to facilitate removal of said second container from said first container.

18. A chilling container for use in a chilling apparatus, said chilling apparatus comprising a first container defining a first chamber and a food container positionable in said first chamber, said chilling container comprising a chilling chamber for holding ice therein below said food container, wherein said chilling container is movable relative to said food container during melting of said ice to maintain said ice in contact with an undersurface of said food container during said melting.

19. The chilling container as defined in claim 18, wherein said container is buoyant.

20. The chilling container as defined in claim 19, wherein said container comprises a flotation chamber.

21. The chilling container as defined in claim 18, wherein said second container comprises depressions formed in opposed sidewalls thereof to facilitate removal of said second container from said first container.

22. A method of chilling food comprising: (a) providing a first container defining a first chamber; (b) positioning at least one second container holding ice within said first chamber; (c) positioning at least one third container holding said food above said second container, said second and third containers defining a second chamber therebetween; and (d) reducing the volume of said second chamber during melting of said ice to continuously maintain said ice in contact with an undersurface of said third container during said melting.

23. The method as defined in claim 22, comprising draining melted ice water from said second chamber to said first chamber during said melting.

24. The method as defined in claim 23 wherein said draining comprises allowing said melted ice water to flow between adjacent sidewalls of said first and second containers.

25. The method as defined in claim 23, wherein said reducing the volume of said second chamber comprises floating said second container within said first chamber.

26. The method as defined in claim 23, comprising allowing said third container to lower relative to said first container by gravitational forces during said melting.

Description:

TECHNICAL FIELD

This application relates to an apparatus and method for chilling food.

BACKGROUND

Many containers for serving chilled food and beverages are known in the prior art. For example, Canadian patent application No. 2,232,206, Smith, published Sep. 16, 1999 relates to a portable outdoor salad bar which includes a container for holding ice and a rack for holding food receptacles which is placed over the ice container. U.S. Pat. No. 7,007,813, Yang, issued Mar. 7, 2006 similarly relates to a serving tray for keeping food fresh. In this invention food items are placed on the surface of a receiving pan. The receiving pan is positionable over a compartment into which ice is loaded.

One problem with conventional food trays for use in salad bars, buffets and the like is that the undersurface of the tray holding the food is not continuously held in contact with the ice held in the underlying ice container. Rather, as the ice melts, a gap develops between the level of the melted ice water in the ice container and the undersurface of the food tray. Relatively warm air may flow into this gap which diminishes the cooling effect of the ice and may increase its melting rate. In order to achieve relatively constant cooling over an extended time, the ice water must be frequently drained from the ice container and replaced by a fresh supply of ice.

Some systems for automatically draining water from ice containers are known in the prior art. U.S. Pat. No. 5,564,288, Lewis, issued Oct. 16, 1996 relates to a cooler for storing beverages on ice. The cooler includes an outer container and a buoyant inner container assembly. The cooler is configured so that melted ice water drains from the inner assembly to the outer container. Since the inner container is buoyant, it floats upon the liquid which is drained into the outer container. However, in the Lewis cooler the beverages and ice are mixed together in the same compartment. In the case of containers for serving food, direct admixture of the food and ice is not always desirable or convenient.

The need has arisen for an improved apparatus and method for chilling food where the food and ice are held in separate containers and wherein the food is continuously chilled by the ice as the ice melts.

SUMMARY OF INVENTION

In accordance with the invention a chilling apparatus is provided including a first container defining a first chamber; at least one buoyant second container positionable within the first chamber for holding ice therein; and at least one third container positionable overlying the second container and having an undersurface cooled by the ice. The second and third containers are separable and define a subchamber therebetween which decreases in volume as the ice melts, thereby maintaining the ice in contact with the undersurface of the third container. In an embodiment of the invention the buoyant second container floats on the surface of water drained from the second container to the bottom of the first container.

In some embodiments of the invention multiple second containers and/or multiple third containers are positionable within the first container.

The method of the invention may include the steps of:

    • (a) providing a first container defining a first chamber;
    • (b) positioning at least one second container holding ice within the first chamber;
    • (c) positioning at least one third container holding the food above the second container, the second and third containers defining a subchamber therebetween; and
    • (d) reducing the volume of the subchamber during melting of the ice to continuously maintain the ice in contact with an undersurface of the third container.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS

In drawings which describe embodiments of the invention but which should not be construed as restricting the spirit or scope thereof,

FIG. 1 is an exploded view of an embodiment of the applicant's food chilling apparatus comprising an ice chiller container having a flotation compartment and showing the ice chiller container loaded with ice.

FIG. 2 is an assembled view of the apparatus of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is an assembled view of the apparatus of FIGS. 1 and 2 after some of the ice has melted.

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of an embodiment of the ice chiller container.

FIG. 5 is a partially exploded view of an embodiment of the invention similar to the embodiment of FIG. 1 for accommodating multiple food containers showing the ice chiller containers loaded with ice.

FIG. 6 is an assembled view of the apparatus of FIG. 5.

FIG. 7 is an assembled view of the apparatus of FIGS. 5 and 6 after some of the ice has melted.

DESCRIPTION

Throughout the following description, specific details are set forth in order to provide a more thorough understanding of the invention. However, the invention may be practiced without these particulars. In other instances, well known elements have not been shown or described in detail to avoid unnecessarily obscuring the invention. Accordingly, the specification and drawings are to be regarded in an illustrative, rather than a restrictive, sense.

This application relates to a food chilling apparatus 10 comprising separate containers 12, 14 and 16. As shown in FIGS. 1 and 2, in one embodiment containers 12, 14 and 16 are nestable and stackable. First container 12 defines an inner chamber 18 within which second container 14 and third container 16 are supported. As described further below, second container 14 is provided for holding ice 20 or some other coolant and third container 16 is provided for separately holding food (not shown). As shown in FIG. 2, when second and third containers 14, 16 are coupled together, a cooling subchamber 22 is defined therebetween. Apparatus 10 is configured so that ice 20 within subchamber 22 directly cools an undersurface 24 of third container 16. Since containers 14 and 16 are separate, the ice 20 and food are not commingled. As shown in the drawings, first container 12 may include shoulders 26 which form a step for supporting peripheral flanges 30 formed on third container 16.

FIGS. 1-4 illustrate one embodiment of the invention. In this embodiment second container 14 includes a buoyant chamber 42. For example, chamber 42 may consist of a sealed air pocket. Apparatus 10 is configured in this embodiment so that melted ice water can drain from subchamber 22, for example between the adjacent sidewalls of second and third containers 14 and 16, to the bottom of chamber 18 defined by first container 12. Thus chamber 18 may function as a catch basin for the melted water. As the water drains and accumulates at the bottom of chamber 18, second container 14 floats upwardly relative to first container 12 and third container 16 to maintain ice 20 in contact with the undersurface 24 of third container 16 (FIG. 3) to provide constant cooling.

As will be appreciated by a person skilled in the art, many different means for draining melted ice water from subchamber 22 to the bottom of chamber 18 of first container 12 may be envisaged. For example, rather than overflowing the sidewalls of second container 14, melted water may be passed through a conduit or drain directly into chamber 18. The drain could be fitted with a valve to permit one-way flow of water only.

Second container 14 may be sized to fit snugly within first container 12. As shown in FIG. 4, second container 14 may include molded depressions 44 formed in opposed sidewalls thereof to facilitate removal of second container 14 from first container 12. Depressions 44 are sufficiently large to allow users to insert their fingers to lift and remove second container 14.

In the third embodiment of FIGS. 1-4 second container 14 is not supported on shoulders 26 of container 12. Depending upon the amount of ice 20 loaded in second container 14, third container 16 may be sufficiently elevated so that its flanges 30 are initially raised above shoulders 26 (FIG. 2). As shown in FIG. 3, as ice 20 melts, the elevation of the third container 16 is lowered by gravitational forces until flanges 28 are supported on shoulders 26. The size of subchamber 22 decreases as ice 20 melts, in this case due to the upward movement of floating second container 14 relative to first container 12 and the downward movement of third container 16 relative to first container 12.

As will be appreciated by a person skilled in the art, in an alternative embodiment of the invention (not shown), third container 16 may be configured so that it is supported on shoulders 26 even when container 14 is fully loaded with ice 20. In this case subchamber 22 decreases in size as ice 20 melts as in the other embodiment described above. However, this decrease in size is due solely to the upward flotation of second container 14 (and there is no relative movement of third container 16 and first container 12 during the melting process).

FIGS. 5-7 illustrate an embodiment of the invention similar to the embodiment of FIGS. 1-4 except that multiple second containers 14 and third containers 16 may be supported within a single first container 12. As in the embodiment of the invention described above, each second container 14 includes a buoyant chamber 42. As ice 20 melts, the ice water drains from each subchamber 22 into the bottom of chamber 18 of first container 12, which function as a common catch basin. Due to the flotation of each second container 14, the ice is maintained in contact with the undersurface 24 of each corresponding third container 16 during the melting process to consistently chill food placed within third container 16 (FIG. 7).

As will be apparent to those skilled in the art in the light of the foregoing disclosure, many alterations and modifications are possible in the practice of this invention without departing from the spirit or scope thereof. Accordingly, the scope of the invention is to be construed in accordance with the substance defined by the following claims.