Title:
SEALED CRUSTACEAN PACKAGE
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A sealed package containing a whole lobster. The lobster is placed between two pads and then vacuum-sealed within plastic film. The pads are of a compressible foam material that prevents the spiny protuberances on the lobster shell from damaging the vacuum seal of the plastic sheet material. The lobster may be uncooked or blanched, frozen, or also stuffed and oven-ready for baking.



Inventors:
Ardito, Mark D. (Waterville, ME, US)
Application Number:
11/733334
Publication Date:
10/16/2008
Filing Date:
04/10/2007
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D65/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
THAKUR, VIREN A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Eaton Peabody PA (Portland, ME, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A sealed package comprising: a food product having a sharp protuberance; a first film; and a pad made of compressible foam; wherein said pad is placed between said sharp protuberance and said first film, and said first film is vacuum-sealed around said pad and said food product, said pad forming a barrier between said first film and said sharp protuberance.

2. The sealed package of claim 1, further comprising a food tray, wherein said food tray is used as a base for supporting said food product.

3. The sealed package of claim 2, wherein said food tray is a paper board tray.

4. The sealed package of claim 2, wherein said food tray is a plastic tray.

5. The sealed package of claim 2, wherein said food tray is a foam tray.

6. The sealed package of claim 1, further comprising a second film, wherein said second film is used with said compressible pad to reinforce said barrier.

7. The sealed package of claim 6, wherein said second film is laminated to said compressible pad.

8. The sealed package of claim 6, wherein said second film is a polyvinylchloride film.

9. The sealed package of claim 1, wherein said first film is a laminated film having an inner layer of polyethylene and an outer layer of nylon.

10. The sealed package of claim 1 wherein said pad is laminated to said first film.

11. The sealed package of claim 1, further comprising a bone shield sheet material, and wherein said pad, said bone shield sheet material, and said first film are laminated to a unitary sheet.

12. The sealed package of claim 1, wherein said compressible pad includes an upper pad and a lower pad.

13. The sealed package of claim 1, wherein said pad is a sleeve that is adapted to slip over at least a portion of said food product.

14. The sealed package of claim 1, wherein said pad is a mitt adapted to slip over at least a portion of said food product.

15. The sealed package of claim 1, wherein said pad comprises polyolefin foam.

16. The sealed package of claim 1, wherein said food product has a shell.

17. The sealed package of claim 15, wherein said food product is a crustacean.

18. The sealed package of claim 16, wherein said crustacean is blanched and stuffed.

19. The sealed package of claim 15, wherein said crustacean is frozen.

20. Food packaging for a food product having a sharp protuberance, said food packaging comprising: a sealing film; and a foam pad; wherein said foam pad is adapted to be placed on a food product and to conform to a contour of said food product when a vacuum is applied, and wherein said sealing film is vacuum-sealable around said pad and said food product, said pad forming a barrier between said sealing film and said sharp protuberance.

Description:

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

1. Field of the Invention

The invention relates to the field of packaged crustaceans, more particularly, sealed packaged lobsters.

2. Description of the Prior Art

Crustacean meat has a short shelf life and if it is not contained properly will quickly spoil. On average, a refrigerated lobster or crab has a shelf life of one to two days, but if frozen, can last for two to three months. For this reason, lobsters and crabs are often fully cooked, shucked and frozen before being transported to another location. Reheating the meat may alter the taste of the seafood and, as time wears on, the meat may become odorous, tough and overall less appealing.

The sale of whole lobster, live or cooked, requires expensive storage and shipping practices. Live lobsters must be stored in water tanks. When they are sold, it is assumed they will be consumed within a very short period of time, and no special packaging is generally provided, except for possibly placing the live lobster in a container with dry ice to cool it, yet keep the lobster alive for a transportation time of up to 24 hours. Cooked whole lobster are also sold, and, here, too, it is usually assumed that the lobster will be eaten in the very near future and no special packaging is provided. It is known to freeze a cooked lobster for later sale and consumption. It is very difficult, however, to properly package a lobster with conventional packaging materials, because of its irregular shape and spiny protrusions on its shell.

Vacuum sealing is a well-known simple packaging process in the food industry and is frequently used to expand the shelf life of meats, seafood, vegetables, oils, nuts and many other types of food. Vacuum sealing prevents the growth of bacteria by removing the atmospheric oxygen and excessive moisture, and also prevents moisture and flavor from evaporating from the sealed product. This allows the food to retain its natural flavor longer and extends its shelf life. For example, fish typically have a shelf life of six months if frozen, but it may be extended to two years if properly vacuum-sealed.

Vacuum sealing with plastic film is also highly desirable in the food industry, because typical vacuum-sealing machines are inexpensive and the process is simple. Until now, however, it has not been practical to vacuum-seal a whole lobster or crab because of spines, spikes and other protuberances on the shell that may pierce or otherwise negatively affect the integrity of the plastic film. Parts of the lobster shell, particularly the claw shells, are easily cracked or broken during packaging and shipping processes. The lobster tail, however, has fewer protuberances and is less irregularly shaped than the remainder of the lobster and, currently, is the only portion of the lobster that is vacuum packaged in its shell. This method of packaging lobster tail has a relatively high failure rate, though, because protuberances on the bottom of the tail often puncture through the film of the vacuum package.

In some cases, crustaceans are first frozen in bulky containers or blocks of ice and then encased in a vacuum-sealed package. This type of packaging is referred to in the industry as a “popsicle pack”. This method requires substantial amounts of energy to freeze the large amount of water necessary to encase the lobster. It also increases the shipping weight of the lobster significantly and requires a long thaw period, both resulting in greater cost and inconvenience to the consumer.

Other packaging processes, such as “form, fill, and seal packaging” use some type of tray, cup, or molded container. A film is typically used over the top of the package to form a seal. This type of packaging has a disadvantage in that it frequently requires application of additional processing steps or use of additional tools. The use of heat and/or pressure may be needed to form the molded tray. The irregular shape of the lobster makes it difficult to secure it in this type of package, so that it is not free to move around inside the package. Furthermore, the lobster can be damaged and/or the seal be broken by one of the many sharp protuberances of the lobster.

Therefore, what is needed is a protective sealed package for preserving a whole crustacean. What is further needed is such a package that is rugged enough to withstand the stresses of shipping and handling, yet does not damage the crustacean shell. What is yet further needed is such a package that uses conventional, inexpensive packaging materials and packaging methods.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention is a sealed package for protecting and preserving a crustacean. The sealed package comprises one or more pads of compressible material and a plastic film that encloses the crustacean. The crustacean, either in whole or in part, is placed between the pads and then vacuum-sealed in the plastic film. The primary intended purpose of the invention is to package and preserve a lobster, the most difficult crustaceans to package, because of its spiny, breakable shell and its irregular shape. The inventive packaging is illustrated together with a lobster. It is understood, however, that other crustaceans or any food containing spines, spikes or sharp, spiny protuberances may be packaged in this manner. Thus, the use of the word “lobster” is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended to limit the use of the inventive packaging to use with a lobster.

The one or more pads may be provided in different sizes and varying thicknesses. The thickness of the pad to be used is ideally selected to accommodate the height of the spikes and spines. Thus, the thickness of the pad may be determined by the longest protrusion on the shell. The width and length dimensions are ideally selected to accommodate the size of the lobster, or the portion of the lobster to be padded. The pads are compressible and conform to some extent to the contour of the lobster's exoskeleton. The pads may be made of polyolefin foam, commonly used in the field of dentistry, or other food-safe, compressible material. Polyvinylchloride film (PVC), known in the food-packing industry as “bone shield”, may be used in conjunction with the plastic film either separately or laminated to the foam pad, to make the package more resistant to puncture damage.

The plastic film is of the kind typically used in the vacuum-sealing process such as laminated pouches with an inner layer of polyethylene and an outer layer of nylon. The plastic film may be on a roll or pre-cut into sheets. PVC may also be used in conjunction with the laminated pouches to reinforce the package. The sealed package may be full or partially vacuum-sealed, depending on the crustacean being packaged. For example, the exoskeleton of a soft-shelled crab may be sealed with a partial vacuum, with air, nitrogen, or another non-reactive gas providing a cushion for the soft shell, whereas a hard shell lobster is ideally sealed under with a full vacuum.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The present invention is described with reference to the accompanying drawings. In the drawings, like reference numbers indicate identical or functionally similar elements.

FIG. 1 is a top plane view of the sealed crustacean package according to the invention, showing a lobster covered with a pad and vacuum-sealed in a plastic film.

FIG. 2 is top plane view of a lobster placed on a tray wearing a mitt-shaped pad,

FIG. 3 is a cross-sectional schematic view of a laminated composite sheet comprising a pad, bone shield, and plastic film.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The present invention will now be described more fully in detail with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which the preferred embodiment of the invention is shown. This invention should not, however, be construed as limited to the embodiment set forth herein; rather, it is provided so that this disclosure will be complete and will fully convey the scope of the invention to those skilled in the art.

FIGS. 1 and 2 show a sealed crustacean package 100 according to the invention comprising a pad 110 and plastic film 116 enclosing a crustacean 112, which is a lobster. In FIG. 1, the lobster is shown in dashed lines, covered by a pad 110 and sealed within the plastic film 116. The lobster 112 may be blanched, split lengthwise down the middle and/or stuffed before being packaged. The tail and claws of the lobster 112 may also be severed from the body and separately packaged. It is understood that the lobster may also be uncooked, boiled, steamed, baked, marinated or otherwise prepared in any other appropriate manner. The lobster 112 may also be treated with a hyperbaric chamber. This has become increasingly popular for lobster processors, as a means of detaching the lobster meat from the shell.

The pad 110 may be made of any compressible, flexible padding or foam, such as polyolefin foam, which is suitable for food packaging. The pad 110 may be a single large pad that is folded to substantially cover the top and bottom of the lobster 112 or may include multiple pads. The pad 110 may cover the entire lobster 112, or just those parts that have a shell susceptible to cracking or breaking, or to parts that have sharp protuberances or spikes. The pad 110 may be any shape suitable for covering the lobster 112, such as, rectangular or oval, or it may be shaped more specifically to the product that is to be sealed, for example, it may have the general outline of a lobster or a crab, or may be closed on two or three sides to form a pocket-like enclosure. The pad 110 may also be designed to fit a particular anatomical part of the lobster 112. For example, the pads 110 may be shaped like mitts 118 that are slipped over the claws, or shaped like a skirt or sleeve that is slipped over the tail. FIG. 2 illustrates a lobster 112 with a mitt 118 on its claw. The pad 110 lay also be embedded with a logo, design or an indication of where the lobster 112 was caught. For example, “Caught in Maine” may be printed on the pad 110

In the embodiment shown, the pad 110 includes at least two pads, a top pad 110A and a base pad 110B. The base pad 110B may be a standard thickness that will accommodate the size of most lobsters, whereby the top pad 110A may be selected according to the largest dimension of the spiny protuberances on the particular lobster 112. The lobster 112 is placed on the base pad 110B and covered with the top pad 110A. The unit is then vacuum-sealed in plastic film 116, forming the sealed crustacean package 100 according to the invention, which provides an airtight seal around the lobster or crustacean 112.

The plastic film 116 may be a bag, pouch, or tube, or separate sheets that are cut as needed to accommodate the length of the lobster. Plastic film 116 typically used to vacuum seal food is appropriate, such as laminated pouches with an inner layer of polyethylene and an outer layer of nylon. Film having a high oxygen transmission rate, such as CRYOVAC® 10K OTR bags or vacuum skin package, may also be used to package the unit. The plastic film 116 may be any suitable shape, size and thickness conventionally used to vacuum-seal food. At any rate, the plastic film 116 is sealed on all sides surrounding the lobster 112 to provide the vacuum seal. It is understood that other plastic materials, such as PVC sheet material, referred to in the food packing industry as bone shield 114, may be used in conjunction with the plastic film 116 to reinforce the sealed crustacean package 100. FIG. 3 shows a cross sectional view of the plastic film 116, bone shield 114 and a pad 110 as a laminated composite sheet.

In another embodiment, the base pad 110B may be a replaced by a disposable food tray 210. The food tray 210 may be made of paper board or polystyrene foam, or may be a thin plastic tray, and may also be covered with some absorbent material to absorb liquid from the crustacean. For example, the lobster 112, split in half lengthwise, may be placed with the split side down on the disposable food tray 210. This split side doesn't have the spiny protuberances of a whole lobster, nor a shell that is susceptible to cracking. Thus, it is not necessary to pad the bottom of the package 100 with the foam pad 110B. FIG. 2 shows the lobster 112 placed on the disposable food tray 210.

When the air is removed from the sealed crustacean package 100, the plastic film 116 forms a tight seal against the foam pad or pads 110 or the disposable food tray 210. The top pad 110A conforms to the shape of the lobster 112, which aids in distributing the pressure evenly over the entire surface of the lobster, thereby avoiding any one pressure point that may crack the shell. The pads 110 also accommodate and cushion any spikes or spines, preventing them from damaging the plastic film 116. The use of the pads 110 thereby enables the use of conventional vacuum-sealing plastic to seal such irregularly shaped and spiny creatures.

It may be desirable to provide a selection of pads in varying thicknesses so that, in an effort to conserve material, the pad with a thickness that is just sufficient to cover the highest spiny protuberance on the shell is selected. For example, to package a lobster with smaller protuberances, one would select a thinner pad 110 and conversely, a thicker pad 110 for a lobster with greater protuberances. The pad 110 may be laminated with the plastic film 116, or may be laminated with the PVC bone shield 114 and the plastic film 116.

It is understood that the embodiments described herein are merely illustrative of the present invention. Variations in the construction of the sealed crustacean package may be contemplated by one skilled in the art without limiting the intended scope of the invention herein disclosed and as defined by the following claims.