Title:
Food Storage and Serving Device
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A reusable kit for managing multiple different foodstuffs (although adaptable to common foodstuffs or other categories of items) for storing, or presenting separately when serving. The kit is comprised of a plurality of bins and bins lids, a base holding container and a plurality of indicators. The indicators having indicia associated with the names of the days of the week and/or the number of servings. The bins are convertible from a serving function to a storing function. The bins can also be used separately apart from the kit. The serving arrangement and method of the invention comprises placing foodstuffs in bins, setting the indicator(s) for each bin to the day that the foodstuff had been prepared, placing the bin in a base holding container and setting it out at a serving table. For the storing function, method involves placing the bins containing food in a base holding container, (re)setting the indicators as appropriate, then closing the bins with individual bin lids or, alternatively, a single overall base container cover, to make an airtight enclosure.



Inventors:
Mular, Rebecca Susan (Surrey, CA)
Mular, Camaira May (Surrey, CA)
Application Number:
11/161983
Publication Date:
06/12/2008
Filing Date:
08/24/2005
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
206/223, 206/459.1, 206/459.5, 206/549, 220/796
International Classes:
A45C11/20; B65B55/00; B65D43/04; B65D69/00
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
SMITH, CHAIM A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
REBECCA MULAR (SURREY, BC, CA)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A device comprising a bin having a generally flat bottom, side walls and an open top portion and an indicator having indicia; said bin has a bin collar that surrounds the periphery of the exterior side wall surfaces.

2. The said device of claim 1 wherein the said indicia are associated with the names of the days of the week.

3. The said device of claim 1 wherein the said indicia are sequential numbers from 1 to 5.

4. The said device of claim 1 wherein the said indicia are symbols.

5. The said device of claim 1 wherein the said indicator is located on one side of the bin and it is centered on the face of the said bin collar.

6. The said device of claim 1 wherein the said bin collar is generally a rounded flange shaped in a downward sloping angle away from the bin.

7. The said device of claim 1 wherein the said bin collar is generally a square shaped flange with the initial section jutting out perpendicularly from the bin and then bending downward at a right angle.

8. The said device of claim 1 further comprising an outwardly protruding ridge tab on the said bin collar located on a section beside one end of said indicator and a second outwardly protruding ridge tab located on a section beside the other end of said indicator.

9. The said device of claim 1 wherein the said indicator is located on one side of the bin and it is off-centre on the face of the said bin collar and there is an outwardly protruding ridge tab on the section of the said bin collar beside the said indicator.

10. The said device of claim 1 wherein the junctures of the said bottom and the said side walls of the said bin are rounded.

11. The said device of claim 1 further comprising a lid shaped to create a water resistant seal with the said open top portion of the said bin.

12. The said device in claim 11 wherein the device is a component of a kit; said kit further comprising: a. a plurality of the said bin and said bin lid; b. a base having a generally flat bottom, side walls and an open top portion; said base being capable of enclosing all said bins associated with the kit with or without their lids; said bins are removable from said base; and a base cover shaped to create a water resistant seal with said open top portion of said base.

13. The said kit of claim 12 wherein the said indicia are associated with the names of the days of the week.

14. The said kit of claim 12 wherein the said indicia are sequential numbers from 1 to 5.

15. The said kit of claim 12 wherein the said indicia are symbols.

16. The said kit of claim 12 wherein the said indicator is located on one side of the said bin and it is centered on the face of the said bin collar.

17. The said kit of claim 12 further comprising an outwardly protruding ridge tab on a section of the said bin collar located beside one end of said indicator and a second outwardly protruding ridge tab located on a section beside the other end of said indicator.

18. The said kit of claim 12 wherein the said indicator is located on one side of the said bin and it is off-centre on the face of the said bin collar and there is an outwardly protruding ridge tab on a section of the said bin collar beside the said indicator.

19. The said kit of claim 12 wherein the junctures of the said bottom and the said side walls of the said bin are rounded.

20. The said kit of claim 12 wherein said base further comprises a plurality of base indicators having indicia associated with dates on a calendar.

21. The said kit of claim 20 wherein the said base indicators are placed in a horizontal row along the upper outside perimeter of the said base holding container and spaced so that when said bins are assembled in the said base holding container, the said indicators correspond to the bins in a ratio of 1 indicator corresponding to 1 bin.

22. The said kit of claim 12 wherein the said bins have uniform sizes.

23. The said kit of claim 12 wherein the said bins have variable widths.

24. The said kit of claim 12 wherein the said bins have variable depths.

25. The said kit of claim 12 further comprising one or more colander type baskets that fit into said bins; said baskets having pedestals that raise them up in the range of 0.5 mm to 10 mm from the bottom of the said bins.

26. The said kit of claim 12 wherein one or more of the said bins have bottoms that are perforated.

27. The said kit of claim 12 wherein one or more of the said bins have bottoms and sidewalls that are perforated.

28. The said kit of claim 12 wherein said bins snap onto said base and there is a distance space between the bottoms of the said bins and the said bottom of the said base in the range of 0.5 mm to 10 mm.

29. The said kit of claim 12 wherein said bins snap onto said base and there is a distance space between the bottoms of the said bins and the said bottom of the said base in the range of 10 mm to 25 mm.

30. The said kit of claim 12 wherein the said base has a collar that surrounds the periphery of the exterior of said side walls of the said base near the said open top portion of the said base and said base cover can close the said base by attaching around the said collar, the respective seal creating a substantially liquid impermeable arrangement.

31. The said kit of claim 12 further comprising a gradation mark on one of the said side walls of the said base for indicating the maximum quantity of fluid that can be poured into the said base holding container relative to the volume of said bins snapped onto said base holding container; said fluid has function of retarding the temperature change of the foodstuff contents of the said bins.

32. The said kit of claim 12 further comprising a label holder on one of the said side walls of the said base that is capable of holding a removable label of paper or plastic for marking information associated with the kit or the foodstuff contained therein.

33. The said kit of claim 12 wherein the said indicators are placed onto the said bins in a ratio of 1 indicator to 1 bin.

34. The said kit of claim 12 wherein the said indictors are placed onto the said bins in a ratio of 2 indicators to 1 bin.

35. The said kit of claim 12, wherein said components of the said kit consist of a plastic material.

36. The said kit of claim 35, wherein said plastic material is made from at least one material from the list consisting of polypropylene, polyethylene, polypropylene/polyethylene copolymer, polyethylene terephthalate, polystyrene and elastomers.

37. The said kit of claim 12 wherein the said base holding container is generally rectangular in shape.

38. The said kit of claim 12 wherein the said base holding container is generally square in shape.

39. The said kit of claim 12 wherein at least one of the said bin lids has a spout and a spout cap.

40. The said kit of claim 39 further comprising one or more connector pieces capable of connecting one or more bin lids having spouts to a said spout cap in a ratio of one connector piece to one bin lid.

41. The said kit of claim 12 further comprising at least one bin lid having a flat lid surface shaped as a cheese grater.

42. The said kit of claim 12 further comprising at least one bin lid having a flat lid surface shaped to slice vegetables.

43. The said kit of claim 12 wherein said base has a foot attached to the exterior bottom; said foot is on the exterior of the said bottom of the said base and is inset in the range of 0.5 mm to 20 mm from juncture where the bottom meets the side walls.

44. The said kit of claim 43 wherein the said bottom of the base has a drain spout and a drain spout plug that seals the said drain spout; the seal creating a water impermeable barrier; and said bottom of the base has angular planes sloping towards the said drain spout.

45. The said kit of claim 44 further comprising a connector piece capable of connecting the said bottom of the base to the said drain spout plug.

46. The said kit of claim 43 wherein the said bottom of the base has a drain spout and a drain spout cap that seals the said drain spout; the seal creating a water impermeable barrier; and said bottom of the base angles slightly towards the said drain spout.

47. The said kit of claim 46 further comprising a connector piece capable of connecting the said bottom of the base to the said drain spout cap.

48. The said kit of claim 12 further comprising at least one serving utensil.

49. The said kit of claim 12 further comprising an insulated tote bag with handles that is capable of enclosing the said base with its said cover attached.

50. The said kit of claim 12 further comprising a table caddy having an open top portion into which the said base inserts.

51. The said kit of claim 50 wherein said table caddy further comprises a rotating lazy susan mechanism.

52. The said kit of claim 50 wherein the said table caddy is shaped to model a simple identifiable object such as a train or an animal.

53. The said kit of claim 50 wherein the said table caddy is comprised of wood.

54. The said kit of claim 50 wherein the said table caddy is made of plastic.

55. The said kit of claim 50 wherein the said table caddy has indentations capable of holding one or more plastic containers; said indentations being capable of holding said containers with or without lids.

56. The said kit of claim 55 further comprising of plurality of containers with respective lids that create water impermeable seals and that can be inset into said indentations of the said table caddy.

57. The said kit of claim 56 wherein the said plurality of containers and said respective lids are made of plastic.

58. The said kit of claim 50 wherein the said table caddy has indentations capable of holding one or more serving utensils.

59. The said kit of claim 58 wherein one or more of said serving utensils are made from plastic.

60. The said kit of claim 58 wherein one or more of said serving utensils are made from wood.

61. The said kit of claim 58 wherein one or more of said serving utensils are made from a combination of plastic and metal.

62. The said kit of claim 50 wherein the said table caddy has indentations of varying capacities capable of holding either one or more plastic containers or one or more serving utensils.

63. The said kit of claim 50 wherein the said table caddy has a compartment capable of enclosing a pump action liquid dispensing pump.

64. The said kit of claim 50 further comprising a compartment top that fits over the compartment containing the said pump action liquid dispenser.

65. The said kit of claim 50 further comprising a caddy top that fits over the caddy open top portion with or without the said base being inserted.

66. A method of managing food, comprising: placing foodstuff items in a bin having side walls, a bottom and an open top portion; closing the bin in a substantially sealed arrangement; and setting an indicator associated with the bin, the indicator having indicia associated therewith related to one of the following: a date on which the foodstuff items placed into the container had been prepared, the number of servings of the foodstuff, symbols concerning the foodstuff's disposition.

67. The said method of claim 66 wherein the said bin has a collar that surrounds the periphery of the exterior side wall surfaces and said indicator is located on one side of the said bin and it is centered on the face of the said bin collar.

68. The said method of claim 67 further comprising an outwardly protruding ridge tab on a section of the said bin collar located beside one end of said indicator and a second outwardly protruding ridge tab located on a section beside the other end of said indicator.

69. The said method of claim 66 wherein the said bin has a collar that surrounds the periphery of the exterior side wall surfaces indicator and the said indicator is located on one side of the said bin and it is off-centre on the face of the said bin collar and there is an outwardly protruding ridge on the said bin collar beside the said indicator.

70. The said method of claim 66 wherein the junctures of the said bottom and the said side walls of the said bin are rounded.

71. A reusable container system comprising: a base; a plurality of bins each having a collar surrounding the external peripheral side walls; a plurality of bin lids; a base cover; a plurality of indicators having resettable sliders used to indicate a date related to the contents of the bins and indicia associated with each slider indicating a parameter of the slider.

72. The container system of claim 71, wherein the said plurality of indicators having resettable sliders are associated with bins in a ratio of two indicators to each bin.

73. The container system of claim 72 wherein the said plurality of indicators having resettable sliders has, for each bin, one resettable indicator located on the collar of one side of each bin and a second indicator located on the collar of the bin on a side oppositely from the first.

74. The container system of claim 73 wherein the said plurality of indicators having resettable sliders includes for each bin an indicator with indicia for each month of the year and an indicator for each day of a month.

75. The container system of claim 73 wherein the said plurality of indicators having resettable sliders includes for each bin an indicator for each day of the week and an indicator for the number of servings from 1 to 5 and a symbol of a garbage can after the 5.

76. The container system of claim 71 wherein the said resettable sliders are U-shaped and further comprise two opposing ridges on the opposite inside walls of the “U” and wherein each of the said indicators on the collar of each bin include slots wherein the said ridges on the each of the said sliders slot into; said collar also has a plurality of notches to facilitate the resetting function of the slider; said slider has a tab on the inside curve of the “U” that audibly clicks into the said notches as it is moved.

77. The said container system of claim 71 wherein each of the said resettable sliders has a flat surface with a post jutting out in a perpendicular fashion from that surface; said post has a slice from its core to create two half posts that can flex; said half posts have triangular shaped end hooks; and said collar has a slot with an open groove; said half posts of slider flex together as they are pushed through the said groove; said triangular end hooks anchor the slider into the groove and to prevent the said slider from being accidentally bumped from the said groove; said end hooks can be pinched together to facilitate the removal of the slider; said slider has a concave dimple and said indicator has a plurality of convex dimples such that there is one convex dimple associated with each indicia marking to facilitate the resetting function of the slider and to prevent it from being accidentally moved to another setting.

78. The said container system of claim 71 wherein the said sliders are made from at least one material from the list consisting of polypropylene, polyethylene, polypropylene/polyethylene copolymer, polyethylene terephthalate, polystyrene and elastomers.

79. The said container system of claim 71 wherein the said sliders are made from a material that includes stainless steel.

80. The said container system of claim 76 wherein the said slots are such that each slot has a groove that is open through to the other edge.

81. The said container system of claim 76 wherein the said slots are such that each slot has a groove that is closed.

82. The said container system of claim 71 wherein the said sliders are rectangular shaped.

83. The said container system of claim 71 wherein the said sliders are oval shaped.

84. The said container system of claim 71 wherein the said sliders are of different shapes.

85. The said container system of claim 71 wherein the said sliders have a height in the range of 3 mm to 8 mm.

86. The said container system of claim 71 wherein the said sliders have a height in the range of 5 mm to 15 mm.

87. The said container system of claim 71 wherein the said sliders are made from polypropylene and colourant.

88. The said container system of claim 71 wherein the said sliders each have a textured surface.

89. The said container system of claim 71 wherein the said sliders each have a planar surface that is ribbed.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Numerous examples of food containers in the prior art fell into the categories of disposable merchandising packaging for marketable food products or commercial/institutional food serving functions.

There are few prior art serving and storing assemblies that consists of multi-compartmental food containers that are directed specifically to the object of generating efficiencies for the daily management of food prepared in a home or similar environment. U.S. Pat. No. 5,871,116 describes an assembly of dishes with open faces that connect and an interconnecting disc member attaches the two dishes. The interconnecting disc member keeps the contents of the food in the dishes separate. The disc may also be perforated allowing for drainable foods, such as canned tuna, placed in one compartment to drain into another compartment. This prior art is more specifically directed to the needs of home prepared, portable lunches for carrying to the workplace.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,381,901 teaches a multi-compartmental tray of recessed indentations. This prior art and others like it have the limitation that a particular indentation could not be easily be emptied, cleaned and refilled without disrupting the contents of other indentations.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,890,595, another multi-compartment food container offers the following description in its abstract:

A food-service kit and method includes a plurality of similar or diverse-type containers wherein the containers may be coupled together in various configurations to form toy-like assemblies. The respective containers include compatible projection and socket configurations so that they may be joined together as building blocks in order to create the toy-like devices.

The prior art of U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,501,338 and 5,415,309 describe multi-compartmented systems that operate by having component compartments stack one upon another. These systems, in their serving functions, require two handed manipulation by the user to access all the different types of foodstuffs since the containers would not be anchored to the heavy body of a receptacle container. Also since the systems must be expanded in a vertical manner they are less versatile for storage as an assembled arrangement on refrigerator shelving. U.S. Pat. No. 6,612,454 teaches a set of modular containers that rest on a tray that can be inset into a larger holding container. The tray introduces inflexibility into the design in that it limits the overall number and dimensional combinations of inner containers. Besides the tray also adding to the molding costs of the configuration, it is difficult to foresee how indicia associated with each of the inner containers could be brought into the design. The invention of Canadian Pat. No. 2241771 has a first “lid” and a second “lid” with a water resistant seals between the base container and the lids. In addition to the compartment between the base and the first “lid”, there is a compartment between the first and second lids. The first lid optionally has indentations that allow it to be multi-compartmented. This multi-compartment first lid, which really has qualities of a tray, leads to difficulties in changing the contents of one of its compartments without disturbing the contents of other compartments.

Dated, singular food storage containers that provide a relatively airtight seal with a snap-on tight cover are relatively well known in the art, and are usually made of plastic material. The dating mechanisms vary in style and complexities. An early invention of a simple device using only the indicia associated with the days of the week was found for a lid of a milk bottle (U.S. Pat. No. 2,024,889). U.S. Pat. No. 3,818,858 discloses a dial affixed to the side of a cylindrical container to indicate a month, while the day of the month was referenced by the lid being rotated to a particular indexing position. U.S. Pat. No. 4,621,670 teaches using a single set of indicia on a vessel, with a triangular projection on the lid acting as an indicator. Another dated lid design, Canadian Patent No. 2426250 teaches a resettable button affixed to a lid with a date indicator. U.S. Pat. No. 4,662,520 discloses a dating mechanism that utilizes rotating rings on the top of the container lid, the rings rotating about a rod in the center of the lid and containing date information.

These dating mechanisms were inadequate. Some required container shapes that did not economized on space (cylinders) or they necessitated bulky apparatuses preventing stackability. The ones with dates on lids mostly had relatively complex dating systems directed more at meeting dating accuracy requirements for long term storage rather than rapid, daily use. Furthermore, having dates on lids would result in the problem that lids could easily be separated from the containers or mixed up with other containers in a system of similar containers.

A search of prior art found various embodiments of nesting features, stacking features, draining features, pouring features and other design features that are also features of this design.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

From this survey of the prior art, it is apparent there is a need in the art for a multi-compartmental, datable food container system that is efficiently convertible from a serving function to a storage function that provides space saving economies, is easy to use, and avoids the shortcomings of prior art devices.

The primary object of the invention sought to create a kit to ease the burden of making available healthy, minimally processed food in an exceptionally fast, efficient manner with minimal attention or planning required.

The present invention has the more specific object of facilitating healthy eating of raw, or minimally processed vegetables for children.

It is also an object of the present invention to be able to accommodate a wide range of foods and their unique handling and storage requirements, including their need for leakproof, air tight storage.

It is also an object of the present invention to provide a means of managing food storage that is very simple, functional, relatively portable and efficient, particularly for users with extremely busy lives, especially parents and students, very young users and elderly users.

It is also an object of the present invention to provide a system of food management that accommodates multiple users, such as a parent preparing a meal having to incorporate into that meal food that has been previously prepared by another user on another occasion. Another example leading to this object is where a live-out caregiver needs to manage meals for someone in their care and they have to be aware of leftover foods that person may have prepared on their own. This invention addresses the need for a multiple food containing “filing cabinet” that fits easily into the refrigerator.

The present invention has as an object of providing simple indicators that quickly present to the user at a glance the date that the stored food had been prepared so as to reduce the necessity of prolonged analysis and/or to reduce the risk of misreading the information.

It is also an object of the present invention to provide a simple and easy-to-use indicator on a food container bin that can be used on non-circular containers which are a more efficient use of space.

It is also an object of the present invention to provide a dating scheme on a food container that is simple to use and allows a user to easily and quickly change the date on a container, yet is not changeable by accident or by incidental movement of the container.

It is also an object of the present invention to provide an indicator that is located on the portion of the container holding the food rather than the lid to prevent the indicator from being inadvertently separated from the food. It is also an object of the present invention to provide a serving system with components that can be easily wiped clean of bits of misplaced food, even in an assembled state and with a dating scheme that can be also be easily cleaned.

It is also an objection of the present invention that it be relatively inexpensive to manufacture in terms of reduced mould costs and minimal finishing/assembly labour required.

It is also an object of the present invention to provide a system that allows for air tight food storage container constructed of substantially transparent material so that the user is aware of the exact contents of the container without having to open it, thus protecting the contents from exposure.

The art for meeting this object was envisioned as a receptacle with multiple, removable bins that, when assembled as a whole, can function as a miniature salad or taco bar or, more generally, a food “filing system” for daily use in a home or similar environment with the bins each having a simple reference indicator to aid in determining the age of the foods contained within.

One way that this invention is an improvement to the prior art is that the incorporation of a “food prep day” indicator with a multi compartmented system allows it to operate as an efficient inventory management system for leftovers in the refrigerator. The system is designed in recognition that the food introduced into the system may have originally been contained in a larger prep or serving bowl and then, as it diminishes in quantity a day or two later, it is moved into a bin in the system which frees up space in the refrigerator. Therefore an indicator with information showing the original day that the food had been prepared is more relevant that the day the food is deposited into the bin. Furthermore, the slider mechanism, having only names of the days of the week, is easier to use and decipher in a rushed environment than the devices in the prior art.

In fact the preferred use is as a food storing and serving system, particularly suited for busy people, students in shared housing environments, families having two working parents, small children and the elderly.

Specifically, the system confers time-saving efficiencies, space-saving efficiencies, and cost-saving efficiencies. It furthermore reduces the risk of inadvertently eating foods that are spoiled and facilitates healthy eating habits.

The system allows food to be stored food in a simple and efficient manner. The user can simply put the food in bins, set an indicator and set the bins in a container that can enclose them with one single lid. This optional usage of one single cover provides added convenience by making the food quickly accessible. It is far easier to pull out one receptacle and remove one lid and see all the fridge food options together than to search through the refrigerator for many separate containers, or fiddle with a bunch of different lids. This invention aids significantly in preventing leftover foods from being pushed to the back of the refrigerator and overlooked.

The system reduces food costs. When foods are not lost in the back of the fridge, they can be consumed on a timely basis rather then having to be thrown out. Furthermore, when foods are consumed sequentially, it ensures they are of optimal freshness. The consumption of previously prepared leftover food means that new food would not have to be prepared, thus extending the stock of food in the pantry and reducing costs in terms of money and time associated with replacing stocks of food that would otherwise have to be done more frequently.

The system reduces the need for plastic wrap. Another advantage is that it reduces the need for moving foods from a storing container to a serving container. The option of having some of the bins fitted with lids shaped as a cheese grater or vegetable slicer during the prep stage also reduces the preparation time and minimizes the need to shuffle foodstuff from a prep area to a serving vessel since the grated or sliced items will simply fall into the respective bins from which they will also be served.

The system provides an optional means of retarding the progression of food spoilage by allowing the user the fill the base container with ice or cold water or a combination of ice and water while serving the food. Also the base container has a series of water fill line indicating marks relating to the number of bins that are placed in it to prevent overflow when filling it with water to retard temperature changes of the food. The user may put warm water into the base to keep food warm or cold water/ice cubes with cold food. The system also provides users the optional method of cooling leftovers quickly before storing in the refrigerator by placing them in an ice or water filled bath in the container beforehand. The receptacle container has a drain to allow for easy drainage without having to disturb the bins.

The optional, insertable basket feature allows freshly washed vegetables to be put directly into use without having to wait for them to drain. Other foods that would benefit from this are olives, cubed cucumber and chickpeas.

The feature of having a resettable indicator on each of the food storage bins aids in keeping track of the age of the food and provides greater assurance of accuracy than systems that place the dates on interchangeable lids. The option of using simple indicators that are only the names of the days of the week is more understandable to young children than dates, which is a more difficult concept to grasp. The simple indicators also have the advantage of time-saving efficiencies than the more complex designs.

The system has a snap-on and off attaching mechanism for inserting or removing the bins individually from the base container that is easier for a child or elderly person to use than an attaching mechanism that creates a tighter water resistant seal. This aids in removal of the bins since it is a less rigid attaching mechanism and doesn't create a vacuum, requiring less force to free it. Allowing a bin to be removed individually facilitates the exchange of old food for new, without having to disturb the contents of the other bins.

As a mini salad bar, the system particularly aids in the human consumption of unprocessed raw vegetables.

The system assists in the area of getting children to eat better food, particularly raw, unprocessed vegetables since it is a way of serving food in a way that appeals to children. It is difficult to get children to eat unprocessed, raw vegetables because they are not as tasty as other preparation styles. It is generally known that processing and cooking of vegetables reduces their nutritional value. Busy parents of today, besides all their other social, legal and financial obligations are heavily weighted by the added burden of putting healthy food into their children's mouths, often under much pressure and time constraints. This task is particularly difficult given that children are not predisposed to consuming fresh, uncooked, unsweetened, unprocessed, unsalted foods. Families today are even more encumbered than those of yesterday due to the added burden of having two parents in the workforce and/or the family is headed by a single parent. Furthermore, the already limited amount of time and attention that parents have available to attend to their child feeding function is eroded daily as people are finding their legal and financial burdens accelerating in our consumer oriented society that is becoming increasingly more complex.

The advantage of this system for finicky eaters is that it offers a way of serving food that is particularly suited for salads or tortillas/tacos where people attending a meal may each have different preferences about toppings. It addresses the problem with children who tend to be fussy eaters by reducing the need for a parent to pay any special attention to their fussy habits, which in most cases would otherwise reinforce their fussy habits.

Parents of young children know that the more involved children are in the preparation of the meal, the more they welcome the prospect of eating it. Also they are more apt to buy into a healthy meal plan where they are given a greater range of choices and control over what they eat. Parents also know that offering a child choices is a good way to evoke a desired behavior; such as eating healthily where the choices are limited to alternatives of healthy foods.

The feature of having the indicators as different colours can also teach children about healthy eating habits. The bins can have different coloured indicators that correspond to each of the food groupings on the Food Guide Pyramid. For instance, the bin with a yellow indicator would be for vegetables, the blue for cheese, the green for croutons and the brown for chopped hard boiled egg. The optional lazy susan table caddy device to encase the receptacle can be whimsically shaped to create an appealing meal experience for children and a place for setting out serving utensils.

The indicator feature provides additional efficiencies where there are multiple food preparers in a home and they have time sensitive schedules that do not permit them to communicate thoroughly about food leftover in the refrigerator and how old it is.

The invention is also particularly suited to people who are concerned about eating a sufficient number of servings of fruit and vegetables on a daily basis. When used as a salad bar on a daily basis, the system provides an efficient way of cycling through salad bar ingredients and/or toppings. The feature of an indicator on every bin lets the user know when the bin contents had been prepared. The user can rely on this information together with their observations of the conditions of the food to make a better decision about whether it is consumable or to be disposed of.

The system can conveniently accommodate a user who desires to have something new everyday with minimal preparation. For instance the user can review the bins and dispose of the contents of the bin for which the indicator shows the day is longest past. The bin can then replaced with new ingredients.

The system provides an efficient manner of managing away-from-home meals in a workplace with minimal preparation. As a mini salad bar, it permits a way for a user in the workplace to easily keep a stock of salad ingredients. The base holding container can be left at the workplace for use on a day-to-day basis. It lets the user easily prepare a lunch of a salad having a variety of ingredients, without having to transport all the different ingredients on a daily basis. Rather than transporting salad ingredients in several containers on a daily basis, a user can transport a single item in a single container to be added to the system with its pre-existing ingredients upon arrival at the workplace.

The simplicity of the indicators and efficiencies would also appeal to elderly people who have difficulties with dials and buttons. The sliding mechanism of the indicators necessitates only having to use their thumb or one finger to set the position.

The elderly also have reduced sensory perception which hinders their ability to observe the quality of foods. Their memories are also worse resulting in difficulty in recalling when a stored refrigerated food had been prepared. The day of the week indicator will provide additional information to help them to determine the age of food. Alternatively, the elderly user or their caregiver can use the container as part of a system which involves a habit of emptying the contents automatically on the same day every week to reduce the risk of consuming spoiled foods. The feature of bins just snapping onto the base (rather than fitting on to it to make a water resistant seal) is also more appealing the elderly since they need things that require less force to manipulate.

The feature of the snap on and snap off sliders ensures that any food on or under the indicator can easily be wiped away. Similarly, when all the bins are nested into the base holding container, the collars of the different bins meet together to create a barrier to prevent food from slipping into the base and allow for easy wiping of misplaced food from the collar surfaces.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a front perspective view of the bins snapped into a base holding container and a base cover;

FIG. 2 is a detailed front view of one of the bins shown in FIG. 1 clearly showing the indicator mechanism;

FIG. 3 is a front view of a bin lid;

FIG. 4 is a side view of a slider;

FIG. 5 is a perspective view of a slider;

FIG. 6 is a rear view of the slider of FIG. 5 with the back portion cut away;

FIG. 7 is a side view of one of the bins shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 8 is a perspective view of an alternative embodiment of a bin lid;

FIG. 9 is an exploded side view illustrating the base, a bin, a bin lid, and a cover with cut away portions;

FIG. 10 is a side view of the components of FIG. 10 in their sealed state;

FIG. 11 is a view of the underside of an alternative embodiment of the base holding container whereby it has a drain spout;

FIG. 12 is a side view of the alternative embodiment of the base holding container shown in FIG. 11.

FIG. 13 is a side view of a drain spout cap.

FIG. 14 is a side view of a table caddy.

FIG. 15 is a perspective view of table caddy lids.

Dotted lines in drawings are for purposes of illustration and do not form part of the invention.

PREFERRED EMBODIMENT OF THE INVENTION

The invention is preferably embodied as a kit comprised of a plurality of bins with a base holding container such as that shown in FIG. 1. In the preferred embodiment, the kit is used for food serving and storing. Practically, the components of the kit can also be used separately. The kit can also be used for items other than food, such as paints.

For the purpose of illustrating the kit assembly of the invention, there are shown in the drawings, which form a material part of this disclosure, preferred embodiments of the components of the kit. The various components of the kit assembly of the invention may be generally arranged as shown in the drawings, or as described hereinbelow. However, the invention is not limited to the precise arrangements, configurations, dimensions and/or instrumentalities shown in these drawings, or described hereinbelow. The arrangements, configurations, dimensions and instrumentalities may be otherwise, as circumstances require.

In the drawings, like reference symbols indicate the same components throughout the different views.

The figures of the drawings illustrate a kit comprised of plastic food serving and storing equipment. The dimensions of the equipment can vary to the extent that the equipment retains the functions of the preferred embodiment. Likewise the shape of the equipment can vary to the extent that it retains its functional purpose. For instance, the corners on the containers may be rounded for structural flexibility where the material used is a thinner plastic. The appearance of the plastic may also vary to be coloured, solid, translucent or clear. Particular components of the kit may be coloured differently from other components.

The Bin with Indicator

FIGS. 2-8 show a bin and bin lid for containing food for serving or storing. The bin in its preferred embodiment is generally rectangular, which ensures optimal use-of-space efficiencies that circular designs don't have. It has a generally flat floor, side walls and an open top. In one embodiment, as can be seen in the sideview FIG. 7, the floor has curved sides to aid in the function of scooping food out of the bin. The bin has a collar which is a generally uniform width around the upper perimeter of the bin. The collar angles in a downward fashion away from the bin. In an alternative embodiment, the collar can generally have a square shape, initially jutting out from the bin perpendicularly then bending downward at a right angle. The collar has an elongated section 23 on two opposing planes as can be seen in FIG. 7. On one wider section there is an indicator 25 as shown in FIG. 2. FIG. 2 illustrates the bin with the assembled indicator 25 having indicia 24 associated with of the names of the days of the week. In the preferred embodiment the indicia are raised, although they can also be stamped. An alternative embodiment would have an additional indicator with indicia corresponding to the number of servings or other symbols, such as a garbage can. There may also be two indicator mechanisms on each bin—on opposite edges, with each showing different categories of indicia. In the preferred embodiment, the indicator has a resettable slider that can be set to indicate a day of the week that food deposited into the bin had been prepared. Illustrated on the slider in FIG. 4 are ridges 26. The ridges fit into grooves 27 as shown on FIGS. 2 & 8. The slider has a protruding centre post 28 shown on FIGS. 4 & 6 that fits into notches 29 on FIG. 2 to prevent accidental movement of the slider and to synthesize an audible click when it is moved from one position to another.

In one embodiment, and the one preferred, the slider is made of flexible plastic. It may also be constructed of flexible metal such as that used for the production of eyeglass frames.

One embodiment of the invention is in making the indicators different colours. Another is in making the indicators different shapes. Yet another embodiment is to form the slider with a small ridge or post to make it easier for the user to move. FIG. 5 shows another embodiment whereby the underside of the slider has ribs 30 to assist a user in generating traction as the slider is adjusted from one setting to another.

In one embodiment of the appearance of the bin and the one preferred, the side walls would be clear so as to permit a user to see what's inside it without opening it. A bin may also be coloured, opaque, or solid or have material added to the plastic to make it sparkle, be multi-coloured, or the colour may changeable depending on a condition (ie. temperature) of its contents.

The Bin Lid and Closure Mechanism

In one embodiment of the bin, and the one preferred, the side walls are also formed in a tapered fashion so as to engender multiple bins with a nesting capability for storing empty or stacking in preparation for washing.

A lid for the bin is shown in FIG. 3. There is more than one closure mechanism that can be employed for the purpose of the invention and all its embodiments. The preferred embodiment is a mating seal whereby the top edge of the bin is analogous to a male that can insert into the female counterpart 21 of the bin lid as can be seen in the cut away portion of the drawing of FIG. 3. This seal creates a liquid impermeable barrier.

A further embodiment of the lid involves the lid being formed with a cylindrical spout 31 as shown in FIG. 8. The spouted lid has a spout cap to seal the lid spout in a substantially liquid impermeable arrangement. The seal can be created by several closure mechanisms. The preferred embodiment is a mating seal as previously described. In this embodiment the spout cap may be attachable to the lid by a connector piece having opposite side axels that fit snugly into hooks molded onto the lid creating a hinge.

In a further embodiment of the lid, when the lid is joined with the bin, the lid's surface is formed to mate with the bottom floor of another bin to aid in the stackability of the bins.

The Base

FIGS. 1, 9 &10 illustrate how the bins insert in the base and snap into place. The bin is suspended by the base by means of having the lower edge of its bin collar rest on the base top edge. This bin collar configuration on the base edge creates a barrier against serving food falling into the base while the bins are inserted. The illustration of the FIG. 9 shows the top edge of the base having a bead 41 surrounding the outside perimeter. The bin similarly has a bead 42 from one side through to the other side of the wider section of the collar as can also be seen FIG. 9. In an alternative embodiment, the bead 42 would be intermittent, being placed only at each side section of the elongated bin collar, on either side of the indicator. The bead 42 is located on the underside of the elongated section of the bin collar. Together with the flexing properties of the plastic material, the beads 41 and 42 interface to create a mechanism allowing the bin to be snapped on and off the top edge of the base. In fact, the mechanism can be designed to make a snapping sound, thus confirming to the user that the bin is firmly in place. FIG. 2 shows the indicator as being centered on the collar tab. In an alternate embodiment, the indicator would be off center, freeing up a section of the collar face, and the bin collar would have, in that spare section of the collar face, a protruding ridge tab for the user to pull up on when releasing the bin. In this embodiment the bead 42 would be confined to a length that is roughly the same width as the protruding ridge tab.

The base can accommodate a combination of bins having different respective widths such as the second bin 22 shown in FIG. 1. Likewise the base can accommodate a combination of bins having different respective heights. Each bin or respective lid in a kit may also be a different colour from the others.

Another feature of the invention that is shown in FIG. 10 is that when the bin is suspended in the base, there is a space of approximately 1 inch between the floor of the base and the floor of the bin. This is for the purpose of allowing the base to optionally have a fluid, most likely water alone or water with ice cubes, poured into it for the purpose of slowing the temperature change of the food contained in the bin. FIG. 1 shows a gradation mark 43 on the side of the base for the purpose of showing the user the maximum volume of water that can be put in the base while it contains the maximum number of bins to prevent overflow. In an alternative embodiment, there can be a series of gradation marks depending on the number of bins in the system. The placement of the single mark 43 on the illustration is for purposes of explanation and the actual placement may be above or below that which is illustrated.

An alternate embodiment of the base would include a foot 44 as shown in FIG. 12. The foot is on the exterior of the base bottom and is inset in the range of 5 mm to 20 mm from juncture where the bottom meets the side walls. The inset feature assists the user in picking up the base from a table or counter surface. It also reduces the effects that a counter or table surface temperature could otherwise have on the foodstuffs contained in the equipment. Another alternative embodiment of the base is that it has a small round drain spout on its floor as shown in FIGS. 11 & 12. The spout is offset to allow the base to hang over the edge of a sink. The spout is sealable with a removable rubber plug or spout cap such as that shown in FIG. 13. When the plug or cap is removed any fluid content can drain out without disturbing the remaining contents held by the base. To aid in complete fluid drainage, in this alternate embodiment, the base floor would be angled slightly to channel the fluid toward the drain as shown in FIGS. 11 & 12.

FIG. 1 also illustrates a label holder 50 as a further embodiment of the base. It is capable of having a removable label slipped into it.

FIG. 1 shows another feature of the base which is a base collar. It has a uniform width surrounding the perimeter of the base that angles downward. This is for the purpose of handling ease when the base is carried and it also provides a ledge for attaching the cover.

The Base Cover and Closure Mechanism

The cover as shown on FIGS. 1, 9 &10 is intended to cover the base while it contains bins, whether or not they have separate bin lids. The cover will also attach securely to the base even where the base contains no bins. To improve the handling characteristics of the base, and specifically to provide an ergonomic improvement in facilitating the cover enclosed base to be held securely with one hand, FIG. 1 also illustrates the cover having a square brow ridge 46. In the preferred embodiment, the brow ridge is a straight protruding ridge perpendicular to the top edge of the container. As such it could be inset from the top cover edge in the range of 1 to 4 mm and have a height in the range of 1-3 mm. The brow ridge is intended to aid in handling the covered container by preventing it from sliding away when there is condensation on it. In an alternative embodiment, that would also fulfill the handling function, a lip would be formed in the cover surface that would be located on the top perimeter edge of the cover. The lip would be a formed by defining a recess on the lid for stably engaging the thumb of the user gripping the base container while it is enclosed by its cover.

In the preferred embodiment of the cover, FIG. 10 shows the bottom opening edge of the cover as having a slight overhang 47 when secured to the base collar. Together with the angled out base collar, this permits room for the fingers of the user room to get leverage on the cover for releasing the seal closure in order to easily pry it off the base.

The following dimensional characteristics and FIGS. 9 & 10 illustrate the closure mechanism for the cover in the preferred embodiment of the invention. The cover has a bead 48 formed on the inside wall of the rim, being inset from the edge in the range of 1-3 mm. The width of the bead is approximately 3 mm. The cover also has a flange 49 jutting out in a slightly downwards fashion from the side wall and located in the range of 7-20 mm from the edge. The flange and the bead are shown in the cut away portion of the FIG. 9 illustration. The flange thickness is in the range of 1-2 mm and its width is in the range of 3-5 mm.

An alternate embodiment of the cover is that it may have a recessed indentation to accommodate the bottom foot of the base container, to allow that a second kit may be stacked upon the first.

Material and Construction

The bin, the bin lid, base, cover and slider may be injection molded, thermoformed, extrusion blow molded or otherwise manufactured from any suitable material, and are preferably made of a plastic material such as polypropylene, high density polyethylene, low density polyethylene, polyester, nylon, polystyrene, polycarbonate, polyethylene terephthalate or various multi-layer plastic substrates, polyurethane, and the like. In the preferred embodiment of the bin the material a microwavable plastic so it can be heated without distortion.

Basket

A further embodiment of the kit, not illustrated, would be the inclusion of a rigid, perforated basket of the same proportions as a bin but slightly smaller for the purpose of it being able to insert into a bin to permit drainable foods to drain into the bin. The basket would have four pedestals (or an alternative embodiment that would achieve the same function) so as to create an open area for drained liquid to accumulate in the bin without it touching the food suspended in the basket. An alternative embodiment of the invention, where an air tight enclosure is not important, is to have additional bins that are perforated allowing the contents to drain into the base container and let air circulate.

Utensils

A further embodiment of the kit would include serving utensils, such as those shown in FIG. 14 or other similarly common kitchen gadgets associated with the preparation of food. A further embodiment of the kit would include one or more bins lids that have the flat lid surface being alternately shaped as a cheese grater or carrot slicer.

Tote Bag

A further embodiment of the kit would include an insulated tote bag shaped to the carry the base with the bins and accessories and handles to facilitate transport.

Table Caddy and Additional Containers

A further embodiment of the kit includes a table caddy such as that shown in FIG. 14. The caddy would be capable of holding the base together with its bins. The caddy has a built-in rotating lazy susan 51 to provide easy access to the food contents. The caddy also has indentations 52 capable of holding additional containers containing foodstuff, with or without their container lids. A narrower, deeper indentation 53 is shaped to accommodate serving utensils. The caddy also has a compartment 54 that can contain a pump action liquid dispenser. FIG. 15 illustrates the caddy tops for the caddy of FIG. 14 that can enclose the compartments for the base and the liquid dispenser.

While the invention has been described in connection with what is presently considered to be the most practical and preferred embodiment, it is to be understood that the invention is not to be limited to the disclosed embodiment, but on the contrary, is intended to cover various modifications and equivalent arrangements included within the spirit and scope of the appended claims.