Title:
Fruit or Vegetable Pods
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The invention is drawn to methods and apparatus for protecting fruits and vegetables, particularly soft-skinned fruits and vegetables, from bruising, crushing and other damage during transport. Preferably, the apparatus of the present invention are designed for transport and protection of individual or small numbers of fruits and vegetables. Methods include methods for protecting fruit and vegetable from damage during transport.



Inventors:
Watzke, David J. (Placentia, CA, US)
Application Number:
12/257167
Publication Date:
05/07/2009
Filing Date:
10/23/2008
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
206/522
International Classes:
B65D81/03; B65D85/34
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
MUKHOPADHYAY, BHASKAR
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
STOUT, UXA & BUYAN, LLP (Laguna Hills, CA, US)
Claims:
I claim:

1. An apparatus for transporting at least one fruit or vegetable, comprising an inflatable container having a) an outer substantially gas-impermeable film comprising a outer bottom region and an outer side wall extending radially upwards and around the outer bottom region, b) an inner substantially gas-impermeable film comprising a inner bottom region and an inner side wall extending radially upwards and around the inner bottom region; wherein the outer side wall and the inner side wall form a top rim defining an opening, said inner film defining a lumen open to the air through said opening, and wherein said opening is sufficiently large when the apparatus is uninflated to permit at least one fruit or vegetable to be placed within said lumen, and said opening is sufficiently small when the apparatus is inflated to secure said fruit or vegetable within said apparatus without a lid.

2. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein said container lacks a lid.

3. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the container comprises a valve for inflating or deflating said apparatus.

4. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein when said container is inflated said inner film comprises two or more inward-facing, inflated projections.

5. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein when said apparatus is inflated said inner film comprises two or more inward-facing ribs.

6. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein said apparatus is shaped to accommodate a substantially spherical fruit or vegetable.

7. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein said apparatus is shaped to accommodate a substantially elongated fruit or vegetable.

8. A method of protecting a fruit or vegetable from bruising comprising placing said fruit or vegetable within a lumen of an inflatable container having a) an outer substantially gas-impermeable film comprising a outer bottom region, an outer side wall extending radially upwards and around the outer bottom region, b) an inner substantially gas-impermeable film comprising a inner bottom region, a inner side wall extending radially upwards and around the inner bottom; wherein the outer side wall and the inner side wall form a top rim defining an opening, said inner film defining a lumen open to the air through said opening, said opening being sufficiently large when the apparatus is uninflated to permit at least one fruit or vegetable to be placed within said lumen, said opening being sufficiently small when the apparatus is inflated to retain said fruit or vegetable within said lumen without a lid, and inflating said apparatus.

9. The method of claim 8 wherein said inflatable container is inflated before placing the fruit or vegetable within said lumen.

10. The method of claim 8 wherein said inflatable container is inflated after placing the fruit or vegetable within said lumen.

11. The method of claim 8 wherein said fruit or vegetable is selected from the group consisting of: apples, peaches, grapes, tomatoes, apricots, melons, avocados, bananas, mangos, plums, berries, cherries, pears, nectarines, and oranges.

12. The method of claim 8 wherein more than one fruit or vegetable is placed within said lumen.

13. The method of claim 8 wherein the inflatable container comprises a valve for inflating or deflating said apparatus.

14. The method of claim 8 wherein said container is shaped to accommodate a substantially spherical fruit or vegetable.

15. The method of claim 8 wherein said container is shaped to accommodate a substantially elongated fruit or vegetable.

16. An apparatus comprising a container having a) an outer surface comprising an outer bottom region and an outer side wall extending radially upwards from and around the outer bottom region, and b) an inner surface comprising a inner bottom region and an inner side wall extending radially upwards from and around the inner bottom region; wherein the outer side wall joins the inner side wall to form a top lip defining an opening, wherein the inner surface defines a lumen open to the air through the opening, and wherein an impact buffering material is located between said inner surface and said outer surface.

17. The apparatus of claim 16 wherein the opening is sufficiently large, and/or to the material comprising the top lip sufficiently flexible to permit at least one fruit or vegetable to be placed on the inner surface within the lumen.

18. The apparatus of claim 16 wherein the opening is sufficiently small and/or the top lip sufficiently flexible to maintain the apparatus in position substantially surrounding the fruit or vegetable.

19. The apparatus of claim 16 wherein said container is shaped to accommodate a substantially spherical fruit or vegetable.

20. The apparatus of claim 16 wherein said container is shaped to accommodate a substantially elongated fruit or vegetable.

Description:

This patent application claims priority pursuant to 35 U.S.C. §119(e) to provisional patent application serial No. 61/001,618, filed Nov. 1, 2007, which application is hereby incorporated by reference herein in its entirety.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention is related to the food and food-related consumer industries.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Many fruits and vegetables, including but not limited to soft skinned fruits and vegetables such as apples, peaches, grapes, tomatoes, apricots, melons, bananas, mangos, plums, berries, avocados, cherries, pears, nectarines, and oranges are susceptible to bruising or crushing. Bruising occurs when the skin or flesh of a fruit or vegetable is bruised, crushed or broken, thus causing physical injury to the plant cells involved. On a biochemical level, the membranes and/or cell walls of the injured part are broken and this permits normally sequestered intracellular enzymes and molecules to mix. In particular, phenolic molecules in the fruit can become oxidized, leading to the dark discoloration most often characteristic of bruising. Bruising can also result in the leakage of cellular water into plant tissue, resulting in localized areas of water-soaking and softness. Fruits and vegetables tend to soften as they ripen, which makes bruising all the more of a hazard during harvest time.

Most cooks and consumers typically avoid purchasing bruised fruit, as the aesthetic value of the fruit or vegetable is largely dependent upon its attractiveness. Additionally, the taste and texture of fruits and vegetables is compromised by bruising.

As a result, considerable effort has been made by growers, wholesalers and retailers to prevent fruits and vegetables from becoming bruised when they are harvested, transported, processed and stored. Methods and apparatus have been developed to pick fruits and vegetables without significant bruising.

Indeed, plant geneticists have also experimented with ways of developing improved plants having reduced susceptibility to bruising. Some of these methods involve traditional selection methods; others involve sophisticated genetic engineering methods, such as those used by CalGene, Inc. in developing a tomato (the FLAVR SAVR® tomato) which remains relatively firm (and therefore more bruise resistant), while fully ripening on the vine.

Flats, crates and cartons have been devised to gently but firmly secure the fruit or vegetable and prevent rolling, bumping other trauma from bruising the fruit. For example, some of these apparatus may have depressions designed to hold an individual fruit or vegetable. Furthermore, the flats, cartons and crates may contain disposable or reusable foam or air cushioning pads and or dividers.

However, once the fruit is purchased by the consumer in a relatively unbruised condition, there are few effective ways to transport the fruit while protecting it from bruising. For example, may people prepare lunch, snacks, or other meals to consume at work, school, picnics, or other locations other than the home. Parents typically prepare meals for their children to take to school in a paper bag, lunch box, or other container. However, the fruit or vegetable can become bruised during transport from the home to the location at which the food is eaten.

International Patent Application WO2007/076563 discusses an inflatable food carrier case, comprising a lid hinged to an base and having a fastening means for closing and securing the lid of the case in place for transporting food.

There is therefore still a need in the art for methods and apparatus for transporting fruit or vegetables while preventing them from being bruised during transport. There may also be a preference in certain cases for minimizing the “disposability” of such apparatus, so that they may be reused and recycled. The apparatus should be simple to manufacture and use, preferably requiring a minimum of tooling.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Accordingly, the present invention is directed to methods and apparatus involving a container for transporting one or more item of fruit or vegetables while reducing the probability that the fruit or vegetable will become bruised during transport. Preferably, the container is sized to fit in a picnic basket, lunch box, or paper sack. In certain embodiments the container is sized to fit a single piece of fruit or vegetable, such as a single apple, or a single peach. However, it is contemplated that a container of the present invention may in certain embodiments be sized to fit a plurality of small fruits or vegetable such as grapes, berries, or cherries. Preferably, the apparatus is substantially of a single piece or segment construction.

The container of a preferred embodiment of the present invention protects fruits or vegetables, preferably, soft-skinned fruits and vegetables, by providing air or gas cushioning between the skin of the fruit and the outside environment. This air or gas cushioning may be provided in a number of ways. For example, in a particularly preferred embodiment the container of the present invention may be made using a substantially gas impermeable film. By “substantially gas impermeable” is meant that when the film is fabricated as a balloon and subsequently inflated with air or gas and sealed, the balloon remains at least half inflated for a period of at least about 8 hours.

By “film” is meant a sheet comprising a fabric, a leather, a polymeric material such as a rubber, a vinyl polymer, a polyethylene, and the like. Very preferably the film is made from a washable, food-grade material, such as a polymeric material. The sheet may be homogenous or may be laminated, covered or coated with a polymer to provide substantial gas impermeability. In certain embodiments the film may be substantially inflexible; in other embodiments the film may be substantially flexible.

Importantly, the present invention is made substantially of a single piece, and lacks separate segments, such as separate approximately hemispherical segments. The invention lacks separate “lid”, “hinge” and/or “base” components. In an important embodiment of the invention, the inflatable pod or container is manufactured and designed to retain the food contained within solely by virtue of air pressure and expansion of an airtight bladder or chamber located between an inner and outer film which is filled with air or gas to inflate. In all embodiments, the invention comprises an opening, defined by a top rim, which remains at least partially open even when the container is inflated and/or in use. The invention requires no clips, “hook and loop”, or other fastening devices to retain the food within the container.

Therefore, in one embodiment the container is inflatable and comprises

a) an outer substantially gas-impermeable film comprising a outer bottom region and an outer side wall extending radially upwards and around the outer bottom region,

b) an inner substantially gas-impermeable film comprising a inner bottom region and an inner side wall extending radially upwards and around the inner bottom region; wherein the outer side wall joins the inner side wall to form a top rim defining an opening.

The inner film defines a lumen open to the air through the opening. By a “lumen” is meant a cavity bounded by the inner surface of the film. The opening is sufficiently large when the apparatus is uninflated to permit at least one fruit or vegetable to be placed within the lumen. The opening is also preferably sufficiently small when the apparatus is inflated to maintain the apparatus substantially surrounding the fruit or vegetable.

In a preferred embodiment the junction of the inner film and the outer film surrounding the opening is fabricated to have a plurality of “fingers” around the top rim which inflate when the container is inflated and, so inflated, project into the opening defined by the top rim. These fingers permit the securing of fruit of different sizes or shapes within the lumen, and substantially prevent fruit or vegetables from falling out of the container while it is inflated.

The container is thus preferably sized to contain a fruit or vegetable securely within the lumen. In a preferred embodiment the container has a valve or other opening permitting inflation. For example, the outside surface of the container may include a “blow valve”, capable of being securely closed when the container is sufficiently inflated. This feature permits the container to effectively cushion the fruit or vegetable contained within from bruising when it is inflated. The container can then be deflated after the fruit or vegetable is consumed to conserve space.

In an embodiment the inner film may be made with one or more, preferably two or more, most preferably four or more internal “fingers”, “ribs”, or other projections which will inflate when the container itself is inflated, and will generally approximately radially project into the lumen of the container. Such projections may be useful in retaining fruit or vegetables that do not completely fill the lumen, thus making the container useful for retaining various sizes and shapes of fruits or vegetables.

In a preferred embodiment, the inner film side wall may be made more “full” or voluminous than the outer film side wall such that, upon inflation, one or more “pillow” is formed contacting and thus securing the fruit or vegetable contained within. While the entire interior of the inner side wall may be made as a single “pillow” in this fashion, in other embodiments discrete pillows made be made to project into the lumen to firmly hold and secure the fruit or vegetable inside.

In another, presently less preferred embodiment, the container may be comprised of a foam material, preferably, although not exclusively, a pliable or flexible foam or gel material. Thus, the foam material may include a conventional Styrofoam material which, while having a degree of flexibility, is brittle and may break if too much force is applied to it. Alternatively, an open or closed cell foam made of a polymer such as, without limitation, polyurathane, polyethylene, and polystyrene, or co-polymers and/or cross-linked polymers of these may be used to make the containers.

A gel material may be used to make the container of the present invention instead of, or in addition to, the foam material. The choice of a “suitable” gel, (relatively rigid and flexible gel) may include a silica gel, a hydrogel, an organogel, or a naturally occurring gel, such as aloe gel.

When a gel or foam is used, a suitable covering, if necessary or desired, can be fabricated. The foam or gel is generally used to fill a fabric or polymeric “skin”. Preferably, food grade polymeric materials are used.

Materials other than air or gas (such as gels and/or foams) which absorb impact and thus help prevent bruising of the fruit are referred to herein as impact “buffering materials”.

Containers made using such foam or gel materials may not be entirely uninflatable, or may be substantially uninflatable. Such containers may comprise

a) an outer surface comprising a outer bottom region and an outer side wall extending radially upwards from and around the outer bottom region,

b) an inner surface comprising a inner bottom region and an inner side wall extending radially upwards from and around the inner bottom region; wherein the outer side wall joins the inner side wall to form a top lip defining an opening, wherein the inner surface defines a lumen open to the air through the opening, and wherein an impact buffering material is located between said inner surface and said outer surface.

The inner surface defines a lumen open to the air through the opening. The opening is sufficiently large, and/or to the material comprising the top lip sufficiently flexible to permit at least one fruit or vegetable to be placed on the inner surface within the lumen. The opening is also preferably sufficiently small or the top lip sufficiently flexible to maintain the apparatus in position substantially surrounding the fruit or vegetable. The rigidity of the foam or gel within will also help retain the food inside the pod.

Regardless of their method of construction, the containers of the present invention are made to be of a size and/or shape to hold the desired fruit or vegetables within the lumen. In one embodiment the container may be shaped to accommodate a substantially spherical fruit or vegetable. Examples of such fruits or vegetables include apples, oranges, melons, peaches, plums, nectarines, apples, grapes, berries, cherries and the like. In another embodiment, the container may be shaped to accommodate a substantially elongated fruit or vegetable, such as a banana or a plantain.

Notwithstanding the importance for the lumen formed by the inner wall to be shaped to securely hold the fruit or vegetable inside, the outer wall of the pod may be of any size or shape that may be convenient or desirable. The figures shown herein are only examples of overall pod shapes that the Applicants currently find convenient. Those of ordinary skill in the art will easily be able to envision other shapes of the invention described in this application.

Although certain of the containers of the present invention may be sized to accommodate single fruits or vegetables, it is contemplated that the present containers may include those of a size that render them able to hold a plurality of small fruits or vegetables, such as grapes or cherries.

The present invention also includes a method of protecting a fruit or vegetable from bruising. Such methods may comprise placing said fruit or vegetable within a lumen of an inflatable container having

a) an outer substantially gas-impermeable film comprising a outer bottom region, an outer side wall extending radially upwards and around the outer bottom region,

b) an inner substantially gas-impermeable film comprising a inner bottom region, a inner side wall extending radially upwards and around the inner bottom; wherein

the outer side wall joins the inner side wall to form a top rim defining an opening, said inner film defining a lumen open to the air through said opening, said opening being sufficiently large when the apparatus is uninflated to permit at least one fruit or vegetable to be placed within said lumen, said opening sufficiently small when the apparatus is inflated to maintain said apparatus substantially surrounding said fruit or vegetable, and

inflating said apparatus.

In one embodiment, the step of inflating the apparatus of this method may be performed before placing the fruit or vegetable within the lumen. In another embodiment, the step of inflating the apparatus may be performed after placing the fruit or vegetable within the lumen of the container.

In another aspect the invention include a method of protecting a fruit or vegetable from bruising. Such method may comprise placing said fruit or vegetable within a lumen of an inflatable container having

a) an outer surface comprising a outer bottom region and an outer side wall extending radially upwards from and around the outer bottom region, and

b) an inner surface comprising a inner bottom region and an inner side wall extending radially upwards from and around the inner bottom region; wherein the outer side wall joins the inner side wall to form a top lip defining an opening, wherein the inner surface defines a lumen open to the air through the opening, and wherein an impact buffering material is located between said inner surface and said outer surface.

The examples that follow are intended to illustrate certain embodiments of the invention. However these examples do not limit the scope of the invention, which is defined by the claims that conclude this specification.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a side cross section of an apparatus of the present invention.

FIG. 2A shows the interior of the lumen of the apparatus of FIG. 1, containing optional inflatable lumen ribs.

FIG. 2B shows the interior of the lumen of the apparatus of FIG. 1, containing optional inflatable lumen fingers.

FIG. 3 is a side cross section of a non-inflatable apparatus of the present invention.

FIG. 4 is a side cross section of a differently shaped apparatus of the present invention.

FIG. 5 is a top view of an apparatus of the present invention, showing inflatable top rim fingers.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF SELECTED EMBODIMENTS

The invention is drawn to apparatus and methods for protecting a fruit or vegetable from bruising.

FIG. 1 shows an embodiment of the present invention in which the apparatus of the present invention comprises an inflatable container. The container is shown in an inflated state in cross-section, having an outer, substantially gas-impermeable film (100) and an inner, substantially gas impermeable film (102). The outer film has a outer bottom region (104) and an outer side wall (106) extending radially upwards from the bottom region. The inner film has an inner bottom region (108) and an inner side wall (110) extending radially and upward from the inner bottom region. The inner and outer side walls meet at the top rim (112), which surrounds an opening (114). Within the opening the inner film defines a lumen (116). In this figure, a fruit (118) is shown in outline within the lumen. Additionally, a “blow valve” (120) by way of which the container may be inflated and deflated is shown.

FIG. 2A is a view within the lumen of the inflated apparatus of FIG. 1 showing an optional feature whereby a series of inward facing inflatable “ribs” (202) comprised of the inner film provides additional cushioning to the fruit or vegetable within the container.

FIG. 2B is a view within the lumen of the inflated apparatus of FIG. 1 showing another optional feature wherein a series of inward facing “fingers” comprised of the inner film (204) provides additional cushioning to the fruit or vegetable within the container.

FIG. 3 shows another embodiment of the apparatus of the present invention having an outer surface (300) comprising a outer bottom region (302) and an outer side wall (304) extending radially upwards from and around the outer bottom region, and an inner surface (306) comprising comprising a inner bottom region (308) and an inner side wall (310) extending radially upwards from and around the inner bottom region. The outer side wall joins the inner side wall to form a top lip (312) defining an opening (314). The inner surface defines a lumen (316) open to the air through the opening. An impact buffering material (318) is located between said inner surface and said outer surface.

FIG. 4 shows another embodiment of the present invention, in which the container is elongated to hold, for example, a banana. This embodiment of the invention may be either inflatable (similar or substantially identical to the embodiment shown in FIG. 1) or at least partly uninflatable (similar or substantially identical to the embodiment shown in FIG. 3).

FIG. 5 is a top view of an optional feature of the inflatable pods (such as the embodiment of the invention shown in FIG. 1) showing the top rim (500), opening (502) and inflated protruding fingers (504) which function to retain and secure the fruit within the lumen.

It will be apparent to a person of ordinary skill in the art that the apparatus of the present invention may be made in various ways. For example, the inflatable containers described herein may be fabricated using techniques including: injection molding, compression molding, injection blow molding, stretch blow molding, and the like. The container that is filled with an impact-buffering material may also be fabricated by a molding technique, or by stitching or sewing the components together. The impact-buffering material may simply be placed or loaded between the inner and outer surfaces or may be injected into the space between these surfaces.

The fruit or vegetable pods of the present invention may be used for transporting fruit or vegetables to, for example, work, school or a picnic. Typically, the fruit or vegetable will be placed into the pods at home for consumption at some time during the day. However, the fruit or vegetable pods may be used for backpacking or other longer term use. An advantage of the inflatable pods is that they may be deflated after use, and conveniently stored in pockets or purses without taking up much space. The pods of the present invention, particularly the inflatable pods, are lightweight and do not add a significant weight burden during transport.

Also, preferably the containers of the present invention are made from a material that may be washed, cleaned, and sanitized, thus maintaining the fruit or vegetable in a sanitized state until consumed.

The claims that follow this specification define the invention, which shall not be considered limited to the embodiments explicitly exemplified herein. Although the foregoing invention has been described in detail for purposes of clarity of understanding, it will be obvious that certain modifications may be practiced within the scope of the appended claims.