Title:
MULTIPLE-COMPARTMENT FOOD PACKAGE
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A multiple-compartment rigid food package that allows for individual compartments to be initially packaged together in a connected manner, yet later be separated from each other while a film remains intact upon the compartments to allow opening at different times. The film and compartments each contain a weakened portion along which the film and compartments are relatively simultaneously separated. The back panel is used to provide a stand-up display feature. The back panel is a single, continuous piece, however, it can be removed or separated into at least two pieces by tearing along an area of weakness thereon with a portion of the back panel remaining on each compartment. The multiple-compartment food package provides for storage of a sliced food product, and in particular a single serving size of a sliced food product. The rigid food package also provides for arranging the sliced food product to have a fluffed appearance.



Inventors:
Hinze, Bonita M. (Sun Prairie, WI, US)
Koehler, Alice Tilson (Madison, WI, US)
Quinones, Rafael (Madison, WI, US)
Application Number:
11/963299
Publication Date:
06/25/2009
Filing Date:
12/21/2007
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
206/460, 206/562
International Classes:
B65D69/00; B65D1/36; B65D73/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
SMITH, CHAIM A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
FITCH EVEN TABIN & FLANNERY, LLP (CHICAGO, IL, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A multiple compartment food package comprising: a rigid tray having a pair of separate compartments with a peripheral flange surrounding an opening of each compartment, a portion of the flange between the compartments having a weakened portion, the compartments having side walls extending downwardly from the flanges to bottom walls and at least one of the compartments containing a food product; a common air impermeable flexible film sealed to the peripheral flanges surrounding each compartment and forming a generally hermetic seal at least with respect to the compartments containing food product, the film having a weakened portion positioned between the two compartments; and a common back panel adhered to a portion of the bottom wall of the compartments and having a weakened area positioned between the compartments.

2. The food package of claim 1 wherein at least one of the compartments has a generally rectangular opening.

3. The food package of claim 1 wherein each compartment contains an individual serving size of the food product.

4. The food package of claim 1 wherein the food product is sliced and arranged to have a fluffed appearance.

5. The food package of claim 1 wherein the back panel has an extending edge aligned with an edge of the peripheral flange.

6. The food package of claim 1 wherein the back panel extends outwardly from the compartments in a lower direction, such that a lower edge of the back panel is aligned with a lower edge of the peripheral flange such that the lower edge of the back panel and the lower edge of the peripheral flange form a pair of edges that are generally parallel and spaced so that the package can stand upright on the pair of edges.

7. The food package of claim 1 wherein the area of weakness is one of a perforated tear strip, perforation, tear tape, tear string, and reverse cut score and the weakened portion is one of a perforation, laser score, mechanical score, and tear tape.

8. The food package of claim 1 wherein the flexible film is heat-sealed, glued or ultrasonically sealed to the flanges of the trays and the flexible film is a material selected from the group consisting of amorphous polyester, ethyl vinyl alcohol, and ethyl vinyl acetate.

9. The food package of claim 1 wherein the back panel is a material that is either paperboard or plastic.

10. The food package of claim 1 wherein a sliced meat product is contained in at least one of the compartments.

11. The food package of claim 1 wherein a peggable hole is provided on the peripheral flange of the tray or the back panel.

12. The food package of claim 1 wherein the film is unsealed to the flange of the tray along at least one edge of the opening of each compartment outwardly of the adjacent seal between the flange of the tray and the film to provide for free flaps of the film that can be grasped to open the compartments.

13. A multiple compartment package for a food product comprising: A rigid tray having a pair of compartments each having a generally rectangular opening surrounded by a common peripheral flange, a bottom wall opposite the flange, and sidewalls extending from the flange to the bottom wall with a weakened area between the compartments, and at least one of the compartments containing a food product; a common air impermeable flexible film affixed to the flange surrounding the opening of each compartment to seal the compartments, the film having a weakened portion positioned between the two compartments; and a common back panel adhered to a portion of the bottom wall of each compartment, the back panel having an area of weakness positioned between the two compartments.

14. The food package of claim 13 wherein the back panel has an edge substantially aligned with an edge of the peripheral flange such that the edges can support the package upright.

15. The food package of claim 13 wherein each compartment contains an individual serving size of a sliced food product and is arranged to have a fluffed appearance.

16. A method of separating adjacent compartments of a food package, the method comprising: separating a common back panel attached to a bottom of each compartment, a pair of parts each attached to the bottom of one of the compartments; and substantially simultaneously separating a common flexible film sealed to a flange surrounding an opening of each compartment and separating the flange between the compartments along generally aligned weakened portions while maintaining the seals surrounding the opening of each compartment.

17. A method of forming a multiple compartment food package containing a food product, the method comprising: forming a series of connected base trays from a web of rigid film, the series of connected base trays having a series of recesses therein connected by flanges about openings of the recesses; filling at least some of the recesses of the series of the connected base trays with the food product; overlaying a web of flexible film onto the flanges of the connected base trays to cover the food product contained within the recesses; applying a gas flush to the food product inside the recesses and sealing the flexible film to the flanges of the connected base trays about the periphery of each opening; separating the series of connected base trays into packages having at least two adjacent recesses; substantially simultaneously forming lines of weakness in the flexible film and the flanges between adjacent recesses in the package; and attaching a back panel to an exterior bottom surface of each recess of the package, the back panel having an area of weakness positioned between the adjacent recesses of the tray.

Description:

FIELD

A multiple-compartment food package having a rigid base and a flexible film lid, and in particular, a multiple-compartment food package with an attached back panel card.

BACKGROUND

Food packages are known to comprise multiple compartments within for storage of food. The multiple compartment food packages can comprise an assortment of food items contained in the recessed compartments or a single variety of food product and can be covered by a single continuous sheet of film, or alternatively a rigid lid. Once the sheet of film or lid is removed, all of the multiple compartments are simultaneously exposed, such that all of the food items in the different compartments can be consumed in one sitting. One such food package comprised of a single tray with multiple food compartments is disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,375,701 and 5,657,873, where the single tray has multiple compartments with a common flexible film placed across each of the compartments to seal the food within the package until it is opened. Once the film is removed from the tray in order to provide access to the food products within, the film is no longer resealable, thus preventing any remaining food from being resealed in the compartments.

SUMMARY

A multiple-compartment, rigid food package is provided that allows for multiple individual serving sizes of a sliced food product to be packaged and sold together in a connected manner, yet allows the individual compartments to be separated from each other and opened independently of each other. For example, each multiple compartment can store a sliced food product having a fluffed appearance and covered with a common film having a perforation therein or other weakened portion between the individual compartments. The multiple compartments are connected together at an upper surface, along adjacent peripheral flanges of the compartments, and can be separated along a perforation or other line of weakness in order to separate the compartments from each other.

The multiple compartment food package has a back panel that is attached to the bottom of each compartment. The back panel is configured to provide either a stand-up display feature and/or a hole in the top of the panel to use with peggable displays. The back panel can be separated into at least two pieces along a line or area of weakness positioned between the individual compartments, thus providing for a portion of the back panel to remain on each compartment when the compartments are separated from each other. In addition, the back panel provides increased rigidity to the package.

The common flexible film is placed over the top opening of each of the compartments to cover and seal the compartments until the food products therein are ready to be consumed. The flexible film is a single continuous sheet of film that overlays all of the multiple compartments of the food package. Between adjacent food compartments the film contains a perforation or other line of weakness which allows for the film to be torn along the perforation in order to separate the multiple compartments, allowing for the film on one compartment to be opened without removing the film from another adjacent compartment that was previously attached to that compartment. This allows for the consumer to open up only one of the multiple compartments and to save the rest of the compartments, still containing sealed food products, for later consumption. In one aspect, the weakened line of the film is aligned with a weakened line between the two compartments, and may be made together during manufacturing to ensure alignment. When the flexible film is being sealed to the compartments of the food package, a small flap of film or unsealed portion can be created which provides a grasping point to initiate removal of the film and unsealing of the underlying compartment. The flap of film can be provided about substantially the entire periphery of the package so that when the compartments are separated, each one can still have at least one edge, or portion thereof, with an unsealed flap of film available for grasping the film to initiate its removal.

The multiple compartment food package can be separated into its individual multiple compartments and opened for consumption separately, and at different times. To separate the multiple compartment food package, the back panel is first separated into at least two parts along a line of weakness, with a portion of the back panel remaining affixed to each of the compartments. Then the flexible film and upper surface of the compartments are separated along their perforations into at least two compartments, with a portion of the flexible film remaining sealed to its respective compartment. However, the reverse of these steps could also be performed. When a food item is to be consumed, the user simply removes the flexible film from a single compartment, while permitting the remaining compartments to remain sealed.

A method of manufacture of the multiple compartment package is also provided where the package can be made in a process line. A web of rigid film can be provided and advanced in a longitudinal direction. Pockets, or recesses, can be formed therein to resemble the base trays of the package. These recesses are then filled with a sliced food product, preferably sliced meat, and then overlaid with a common sheet of flexible film. The recesses are then gas flushed and the film is sealed to the outer flanges of the base tray or web. Weakened areas are then together formed in the rigid film and the flexible film, and are advanced in a longitudinal direction along the process line to receive the back panels.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a front perspective view of a multi-compartment food package having a flexible film cover and a back panel;

FIG. 2 is a back perspective view of the multi-compartment food package of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a front elevation view of the multi-compartment food package of FIG. 1;

FIG. 4 is a back elevation view of the multi-compartment food package of FIG. 1;

FIG. 5 is a view showing the line of weakness being removed from the back panel of the multi-compartment food package of FIG. 1;

FIG. 6 is a view showing the compartments being separated along both a perforation on the flexible film cover and between the compartments of the multi-compartment food package of FIG. 1;

FIG. 7 is a top view of the separated compartments of the multi-compartment food package of FIG. 1;

FIG. 8 is a view showing one of the separated compartments being opened by removing the flexible film cover; and

FIG. 9 is a process line schematic of the manufacture of the multi-compartment food package of FIG. 1.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

A multiple-compartment, rigid food package providing for consumption of the food product stored therein at separate times and including upright display of the food package and, in particular, a common flexible film covering all of the compartments of the food package that can be separated along a weakened portion prior to opening and a back panel that can be separated into at least two parts along a line or area of weakness are disclosed herein and illustrated in FIGS. 1-9. The back panel extends along the back walls of the compartments and is attached to each compartment. The back panel can function as a support to stand the food package in an upright position for display purposes in combination with an edge of the package, as well as provide increased rigidity to the package. The back panel can be divided such that one portion of the back panel remains attached on the bottom of one compartment and a second portion remains attached on the bottom of another compartment. Alternatively or in addition, the back panel can contain an aperture to permit peggable display of the package. The flexible film comprises a single continuous sheet of film that overlays a top of the compartments and further contains a perforation or other line of weakness between adjacent compartments aligned with the area of weakness between the compartments. To separate the compartments, the flexible film, adjacent compartments, and back panel are each separated along their respective lines of weakness to allow the adjacent compartments to be separated from each other and used individually.

The food package 10 has a base tray 20 with two generally rectangular rigid or semi-rigid, connected compartments 14 and 16, as illustrated in FIG. 1. However, more than two compartments can be included. Each of the two compartments 14 and 16 can contain a sliced food product, such as a fluffed meat product. The compartments 14 and 16 are generally rectangular, having side walls extending downwardly from peripheral flanges 12 surrounding an opening of each compartment 14 and 16 to bottom walls 42, including a common periphery flange 22 between the compartments 14 and 16. Alternatively, the base tray may contain unconnected compartments that are held together by their common features, such as by the film and/or back panel. As used herein and throughout this application, the term “rigid” can refer to semi-rigid, rigid, plastic, flexible or any other similar embodiments, and is used herein to indicate that structures made of these films have the ability to generally at least partially retain their respective shapes during normal handling.

The flexible film 18 can comprise a single, continuous sheet of film that overlays the top portion of both compartments 14 and 16 and can also be rigid, semi-rigid or flexible. The single, continuous sheet of film 18 assists in maintaining the two compartments 14 and 16 connected to each other. The flexible film 18 can be affixed to each of the compartments 14 and 16 at the peripheral flange 12, thus forming a relatively air impermeable, hermetic seal with respect to the compartments 14 and 16 containing the sliced food product. The common flexible film 18 can comprise a transparent or semi-transparent film 18 such that the food products contained within the compartments 14 and 16 can be at least partially visible. Furthermore, the flexible film 18 can contain printing or labeling. For example, a design can be printed on an upper portion of the package 10 (adjacent a peripheral flange 12) such that the design is presented as an opaque area on the flexible film 18 itself, leaving transparent areas therein for viewing interiors of the compartments 14 and 16 therethrough.

The flexible film 18 and base tray 20 both further contain a weakened portion such as a laser score, mechanical score, tear tape or, preferably, perforations 24 and 26, that can be positioned between adjacent compartments 14 and 16 along the common periphery flange 22. Alternatively, where the compartments 14 and 16 of the tray are not connected to each other, then the weakened portion can be along the flexible film only. The perforations 24 and 26 can span the entire length of the package 10, from one side end to another opposite side end, or it can span a shorter length as long as the perforations 24 and 26 allow separation of the adjacent compartments 14 and 16 (and overlying film 18) from each other. Where there are only two compartments, the perforations 24 and 26 may be centrally located between the compartments 14 and 16 at the common periphery flange 22. Both the film and the base material are separately perforated (i.e., each contains its own separate weakened portion) and each tears along its own weakened portion to separate. When the film 18 and base tray 20 are torn along their perforations 24 and 26 and are separated, the film 18 can be divided into at least two portions 18a and 18b and the base tray 20 can likewise be divided into at least two separated units with each film portion remaining intact until a force is applied to remove the film 18a and 18b to uncover the openings of the compartments 14 and 16.

A portion of the film 18 on the peripheral flange 12 can remain unsealed, such that it creates a flap 38 of film that can be easily grasped and pulled to remove the film 18 and open the compartment. This flap 38 of film can be located around the entire periphery of the package 10, or substantially the entire periphery, and is created by sealing bars, or other sealing tools, that seal around the package 10 periphery but slightly inwards from the outermost edge of the flange 12. Thus, when the package 10 is separated into its two compartments 14 and 16, each compartment has a flap 38 for opening the compartment. For example, the uppermost compartment 14 has a longer flange 12 such that it is easy to grasp and remove the flexible film 18 therefrom. The second compartment 16 does not have this extended flange. However, the second compartment 16 contains a portion of the film 18 that is unsealed and likewise has the flap 38 of film that can be grasped and pulled to remove the film 18 therefrom. Alternatively, the film 18 can have a portion that extends outwardly from the peripheral flange 12 and past an edge of the peripheral flange 12 to provide a gripping surface for the removal of the film 18. Still alternatively, the film 18 can include tabs at the corners of the package 10 to further aid in removal of the film 18. The film 18 can be sealed to the compartments 14 and 16 by any suitable methods, such as by using glue, adhesive, ultrasonically sealing or heat-sealing to seal the film 18 to the peripheral flanges 12.

Turning to FIG. 2, a back perspective view is shown of the food package 10 having a back panel 28 affixed to each compartment 14 and 16. The back panel 28 can be attached to a portion of the bottom wall 42 of each compartment 14 and 16, as shown in FIG. 2. The back panel 28 may also be a single, common panel that spans the bottom walls of both compartments 14 and 16. The back panel 28 can extend outwardly from the compartments 14 and 16 in at least one direction so that its edge is parallel and generally aligned with the outer periphery of one of the sides of the peripheral flanges 12 such that it is located immediately beneath it. The package 10 can then be placed in an upright position by standing it up on the edge of the back panel 28 and the parallel peripheral edge 12 along the edge of the lowermost compartment 16. As used herein and throughout this application, the term “parallel” is used in a general sense, and is not used in a precise, geometric manner. The back panel 28 can be attached to the bottom walls 42 by any suitable means, such as by hot melt adhesive.

When the back panel 28 is attached to the bottom 42 of the compartments 14 and 16, it is preferably attached in generally the same plane so that the back panel 28 is relatively flat or level across the bottom of the compartments 14 and 16 so that it can provide adequate support when stood upright. This may require the bottom walls 42 of the compartments 14 and 16 to all be aligned in about the same plane, which can be achieved by all of the compartments 14 and 16 having a portion of each compartment generally at the same depth. Alternatively, the bottom wall 42 may include a first portion having a first depth and a second portion having a second depth, where the second depth is greater than the first depth and the back panel is adhered to the second portion.

The back panel 28 also operates to further connect the compartments 14 and 16 together and provide support, keeping the compartments 14 and 16 attached as one single package 10. The back panel 28 also contains a line or area of weakness 30, which can be removed to separate the back panel 28 into at least two parts 28a and 28b, where each part 28a and 28b of the back panel remains attached to its respective compartments 14 and 16. The back panel 28 may not be as easy to remove or to separate along its area of weakness 30 as is the film 18 along its weakened portion 24. The back panel 28 can provide a sturdier support to aid in keeping the compartments 14 and 16 of the tray 20 together. The area of weakness 30 functions to separate the package 10 into its individual compartments 14 and 16 upon removal of the area of weakness 30. The area of weakness 30 can be centrally located such that it may be generally equidistant between the two compartments 14 and 16. The area of weakness 30 may comprise a perforated tear strip, perforation, tear tape, tear string, reverse cut score or the like. The area of weakness 30 may also include a tab 36 or other gripping end that makes grasping and removing the area of weakness 30 easier. The back panel 28 may also contain printing or labeling thereon. Alternatively, the back panel 28 may not contain a line or area of weakness 30 but instead can be torn off or removed by hand, thus removing substantially the entire back panel 28 from the bottom walls of the compartments 14 and 16 to allow separation of the compartments 14 and 16.

When the back panel 28 is used to display the package 10 and to aid in standing the package 10 upright along a bottom edge, the back panel 28 can have a lower edge 32 that extends beyond the edges of the side wall of at least one of the compartments 14 or 16, or of the lowermost positioned compartment 16, as shown in FIG. 2. The lower edge 32 of the back panel 28 can be parallel to a lower edge 34 of the peripheral flange 12 of the lower-positioned base compartment 16 such that the lower edge 32 of the back panel 28 and the lower edge 34 of the peripheral flange 12 form a pair of edges that are generally within a line in the same plane upon which the package 10 can be stood upright. When in this upright position, the package 10 can then be balanced to remain upright on its own from the combined support from the lower edge 34 of its bottom-most peripheral flange 12 and the lower edge 32 of the back panel 28. The back panel 28 is preferably rectangular in shape; however, any number of shapes are possible as long as the back panel shape provides for a lower edge 32 to stand on.

Alternatively and/or in addition to the stand-up feature, a peggable hole can be provided on a peg member, where the peg member may be the back panel 28 containing a hole in an uppermost portion of the back panel 28 for hanging overhead on a hook in a display case. When the back panel 28 is used to hang the package from an overhead hook or the like, the back panel 28 can have an upper edge that extends beyond an upper edge of the peripheral flange 12 of the upper positioned compartment 14, such that the upper edge of the back panel 28 extends past the upper edge of the peripheral flange 12 and is parallel to it. A hole can then be placed in the upper portion of the back panel 28 such that the hole is located in a plane that is above the package 10 such that when placed on a hook or the like, the hook will not interfere with the compartments 14 and 16 of the package 10.

In an alternate aspect, a peggable hole can be provided on a peg member that can be attached to one or all of the compartments where the peg member may be a separate tape or other attachment that already contains a hole and can be affixed to the top portion of either the package 10 or the back panel 28, thus the back panel 28 itself would not contain a hole through the panel. The tape or attachment can be affixed to either a front side or a back side of the package 10 or back panel 28, where the front side is the part of the package where the film 18 is attached. In addition to the hole feature, whether on the back panel 28 itself or attached as a separate attachment, the back panel 28 can also still contain an area of weakness 30 positioned between the compartments 14 and 16.

In yet another alternative, the package 10 can contain a peggable aperture or hole 40 through one of its peripheral flanges 12 in order to hang it from a display rack in a vertical orientation. The peggable hole 40 can be along any side edge of the package 10, and is preferably placed on a peripheral flange portion that is longer than the other flanges of the package 10, such that the hole 40 is placed in a portion of the peripheral flange 12 that extends about 0.50 inches beyond the perimeter of the package 10, for example. Similarly, the flexible film 18 of the package can also extend slightly longer in one direction to compliment the extended peripheral flange 12. In that case, the flexible film 18 would also have a hole aligned with the hole 40 in the base tray peripheral flange 12.

The rigid compartments 14 and 16 may be formed from any suitable packaging materials, such as amorphous polyester, polyethyl vinyl alcohol and/or ethyl vinyl acetate. The rigid compartments 14 and 16, which can be formed from a single sheet of material, may contain a protective multilayer laminate portion, having an inner and outer layer that serves as a moisture barrier and sealant layer and a middle layer that serves as an oxygen barrier layer, or any number of such layers in between. The rigid compartments 14 and 16 preferably comprise a multiple layer, co-extruded film made up of amorphous polyester (“APET”), ethyl vinyl alcohol (“EVOH”) and ethyl vinyl acetate (“EVA”) layers and having a combined thickness of approximately 16 mils. The multiple layers can be adhered to each other with a sealant that allows for delamination between certain layers when the package is later opened. For example, after the flexible film 18 is sealed to the package and later opened, the flexible film 18 may not necessarily delaminate at the contact point between the flexible film 18 and the rigid film used for the base tray 20, rather, the point of delamination may occur between one of the multiple layers of the rigid film for the base tray 20. However, to the naked eye the point of delamination appears to have occurred at the contact point between the lid film and the base tray film. A representative multiple layer rigid film can be provided by Curwood, Inc., Oshkosh, Wis.

The rigid compartments 14 and 16, however, can also be formed of various other materials, such as polyvinyl chloride, polypropylene, polystyrene, nylon, and the like. If formed of a relatively stiff material such as polystyrene, the rigid compartments 14 and 16 can tend to be relatively stiff and of such a nature that the compartments 14 and 16, and especially the lower corners thereof, could be damaged if dented or the like in handling. Using certain other materials such as high density polyethylene can provide a somewhat softer and more durable package 10 such that the lower corners may not be as readily damaged.

The rigid construction of the base tray 20 allows for storing food products therein without undue concerns for the food product getting crushed, such as during shipping and handling. Moreover, where the food product is a sliced food product it can be arranged to have a fluffed appearance. The base tray 20 can comprise a transparent or semi-transparent material such that the food products contained within the compartments 14 and 16 can be at least partially visible.

The flexible film 18 may also comprise a co-extruded multilayer film comprising APET-EVOH-EVA that is similar in construction to the rigid film used for the base tray 20. Other types of multi-layer films can also be used having an inner, outer and a middle layer. The outer layer of the film can be formed of a number of different film materials, such as polyester, nylon or polyethylene. The middle layer can comprise an oxygen barrier layer such as ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) or polyvinylidene dichloride (PVDC). The inner layer could comprise a moisture barrier and heat-sealable material such as low density polyethylene. The flexible film may optionally contain a printed image thereon and can have a thickness of 2 mils.

The back panel 28 of the package 10 can be constructed of a relatively stiff material, such as paperboard or a relatively thick plastic material such as high density polyethylene when used as a stand-up feature and for providing further support to keep the compartments together.

The individual compartments 14 and 16 may have a length of about 4 to about 9 inches, preferably about 5.25 inches, and a width of about 1.5 to about 4 inches, preferably about 2.75 inches. A height or depth of the tray can be at least about 0.50 inches, with the compartment 14 and 16 depths preferably between approximately 0.75 inches and 2 inches. The package 10 comprising two compartments can have a similar length and depth as the individual compartments, however, the package can have a different width of about 3 to about 8 inches, preferably about 6 inches, since it is equal to the width of two compartments, or however many are packaged together, and an optional peripheral flange extension for a peggable hole. The openings of the compartments 14 and 16 may be circular, rectangular, square or any other shape. Not all of the compartments 14 and 16 need to be shaped the same in a single package.

The food package 10 may include many types of food products. For example, proteinaceous foods, such as meat, fish, poultry, cheese, peanut butter, and the like, or farinaceous foods, such as bread, crackers, and the like. Still other foods that may be included in the compartments 14 or 16 may be condiments, desserts, confectioneries, fruits, and the like. Preferably, the food product will be a sliced food product, such as a sliced deli meat product comprising ham, turkey, roast beef, and the like, for example. A typical package 10 may include two compartments 14 and 16 having the same size and containing the same sliced food product, such as a sliced deli meat. The slices of meat contained therein are typically a single serving size containing multiple slices, such as between one to ten slices. Additionally, the sliced food product can be arranged to have a fluffed appearance.

In order to separate the compartments 14 and 16 and to open at least one of the compartments 14 and 16 for consumption of the food products therein, the line or area of weakness 30 in the back panel 28, as shown in FIG. 5, can first be broken. If there is a tab 36, then the tab 36 can be grasped and pulled across the back panel 28 to aid in removing the line of weakness 30. Upon separation of the line of weakness 30, the back panel 28 is in at least two parts 28a and 28b, with one part 28a remaining connected to one compartment 14 and the other part 28b remaining connected to the other compartment 16, and the compartments 14 and 16 are no longer connected to each other along the back plane of the package 10. Alternatively, if the back panel 28 does not contain an area of weakness 30 then substantially the entire back panel 28 can be removed to detach the compartments 14 and 16.

After the back panel 28 has been separated into at least two parts 28a and 28b, then the front plane of the package 10 can be separated along the perforations 24 and 26 of the film 18 and the base trays, as shown in FIG. 6. A consumer can grasp the two opposing sides of the package 10, by grasping each compartment 14 and 16, and gently applying a force to the film 18 and base tray 20 such that each tears along its perforations 24 and 26 in order to separate into at least two separated compartments with their respective film portions 18a and 18b remaining intact until opened. Thus after removing the line of weakness 30 and tearing along the perforations 24 and 26 of the film 18 and base tray 20, the package 10 is divided into its individual compartments 14 and 16, as shown in FIG. 7, thus providing for separate compartments 14 and 16 that can be opened at different times and the food therein can be consumed at different times without having to expose all of the compartments 14 and 16 upon opening. FIG. 8 shows one of the compartments being opened separately.

A variety of methods for manufacturing the package 10 described herein can be utilized. For example, the multiple-compartment package 10 can be made using the apparatus and process 200 diagrammed in FIG. 9. A web supply roll 202 provides rigid film to a heating and forming station 204, which forms a series of pockets or recesses 206 in the film 202 that make up the base trays of the package 10. The web material 202 is typically advanced in a longitudinal process direction, as indicated by arrow A. The film 202 can comprise a multiple layer, co-extruded film made up of APET-EVOH-EVA layers and have a combined thickness of approximately 16 mils. As the film 202 passes through the heating and forming station 204, it is heated and formed into the base trays of the package 10, such as by suitable thermoforming or heat molding techniques, and advanced along a process line 205 towards the next station. The film 202 can contain any number of rows of base trays or recesses 206, however, preferably the film 202 will contain four rows of recesses 206 along the web 202. As the film 202 is advanced in a machine direction, the film can be held in place by clips or other similar fasteners, rather than being advanced along a conveyor system. However, the process can be modified to be advanced along a conveyor system if desired.

Next, the web 202 is advanced to a meat filling station 208, or any other type of food station that inserts the desired food product. At the meat filling station 208, a meat slicer cuts the desired meat into slices and arranges the slice(s) into the recesses 206. Where a fluffed appearance of the slices is desired, a rod or finger-like tool can be used to arrange the meat in such a fashion prior to filling the recesses 206 such that it folds the meat over upon itself and appears fluffed, rather than being arranged flat on its surface or folded over in half.

Once the meat, or other desired sliced food product, is placed in the recesses 206 of the web 202, then the flexible film 18 or lid is added via a web supply roll 209. The flexible film is overlaid over the top of the web 202 as it is conveyed down the process line in the longitudinal direction. The flexible film comprises a common sheet of film that is placed over the top of the web 202 such that it covers the opening of the recesses 206 therein. After the flexible film is in place over the recesses, a gas flush 210 is applied such that the air is drawn out of the recesses and a nitrogen flush or nitrogen/carbon dioxide mixture is added and the flexible film is then sealed, relatively simultaneously afterwards, over the top of the web of film 202 containing the filled recesses 206.

Once the film has been sealed over the recesses 206, the web of film is separated 212 into double compartment rows within the web by cutting the web in the cross-web direction, or in the direction perpendicular to the machine direction, as indicated by arrow B. The film is cut such that only two adjacent recesses 206 or base trays remain attached, thus making up the double compartment packages. At the same time as the cross-cut is being formed, the perforations, or lines of weakness, are also formed in the package in the lid and base tray. Additionally, if a peggable hole is going to be added to the package along the flange of the package, then that too is formed at the same time as the perforations.

The double compartment package is still attached in the cross-web direction as a series of four rows. At the next station 213 a longitudinal cut is made. The longitudinal cut is made in the machine direction, as indicated by arrow A, and separates the attached rows of recesses into four single and separate rows. After the longitudinal cuts are made, double compartment packages emerge from the process line and drop onto a single lane conveyor belt to be advanced to the next station.

The double compartment packages are then advanced along one of typically four conveyor lines that advance the package to receive the application of the back panel 214. One conveyor line may advance, while the other three remain stationary in order to efficiently move along the process line on multiple lanes. Furthermore, the four conveyor lines may converge into one lane prior to application of the back panel. The conveyor line that is advancing contains one row of the separated double compartment packages and the back panel is then applied to the bottom surface of the base trays using standard equipment. Typically, the bottom surface of each compartment will receive an application of an adhesive, such as a hot melt adhesive, and the back panel card can then be applied thereto and compressed into place, however, the back panel card may alternatively contain the adhesive on the card only or both may contain the adhesive. Once the back panels are applied, then the completed packages are packaged in cases 216 and shipped to the final destination.

From the foregoing, it will be appreciated a multiple-compartment food package is provided, and methods of manufacture therefor, that allow for packaging the multiple compartments together initially and later provides for separating the compartments without unsealing the food compartments. However, the disclosure is not limited to the aspects and embodiments described hereinabove, or to any particular embodiments. Various modifications to the multiple-compartment food package can result in substantially the same package and methods of manufacture.