Title:
HUMIDITY CONTROL LID
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A vegetable bin (4) or a refrigerator comprises a floor, enclosing side walls and a substantially open top. The vegetable bin is placed within a refrigerated space beneath a lower shelf (6) to be cooled. The vegetable bin is furt provided with a lid (5) to cover said open top, and said lid is suspended underneath the lower shelf directly above t vegetable bin. In one condition the lid substantially seals the vegetable bin to help keep the vegetables fresh. In another condition the lid is lifted up a small amount at a rear portion of the lid, by operating control means (11), in order to allow the air within the vegetable container to exchange with the air of the refrigerated space. The air pathway is opened between the lid and the upper perimeter of the vegetable bin and is preferably located toward th rear of the refrigerated space proximate a circulating fan (8).



Inventors:
Matthews, Roland Brodie (Christchurch, NZ)
Sintive, Bruno (Auckland, NZ)
Application Number:
11/910712
Publication Date:
08/13/2009
Filing Date:
03/03/2006
Assignee:
Fisher & Paykel Appliances Limited
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
62/455, 62/465
International Classes:
F25D19/00; F25D25/02
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
SWANN, JUDY J
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
IP Docket (Chicago, IL, US)
Claims:
1. A refrigerator comprising: a refrigerated space having at least one shelf, a bin removably disposed inside said refrigerated space and located below said at least one shelf, said bin comprising a floor, enclosed sides and a substantially open top defining a perimeter, a bin lid located between said shelf and said bin, and suspended from said shelf and substantially covering and scaling said open top of said bin, a lid actuator for selectively raising the lid such that at least part of the lid is in an elevated condition out of contact with said bin perimeter to open a pathway between said elevated lid and said bin perimeter for communicating gases between said refrigerated space and the inside of said bin, when said bin is in a fully stored position.

2. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 1, wherein said lid, when said bin is in said stored position, has two operating conditions, and when said lid is in said first operating condition said lid substantially seals said open top of said bin, and when in said second operating condition at least a portion of said lid is held away from said bin perimeter and a fluid pathway is opened between said bin and said lid.

3. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 1, wherein said pathway is located toward the rear of said refrigerated space.

4. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 2, wherein said fluid pathway is proximate to a cool air circulating vent in said refrigerated space, and said refrigerator further includes at least a fan to blow cool air from said vent.

5. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 1, wherein said lid actuator is associated with said shelf and includes a control camming surface which co-operates with a camming surface of said lid to open said pathway.

6. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 1, wherein said lid actuator operates via a lever to open said pathway.

7. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 1, wherein said lid actuator acts directly on said lid to move said lid away from said bin and open said pathway.

8. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 5, wherein said lid actuator means includes a flexible band and said band is movable within a track.

9. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 1, wherein said lid includes a plurality of grooves on an underside and said grooves are adapted for retaining condensed water, and said lid is disposed at a slight angle from horizontal so said lid is sloped toward a draining area.

10. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 1, wherein said refrigerator includes more than one said bin located side by side.

11. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 10, wherein said bin or said bins are located on a drawer for improved withdrawal and insertion from the refrigerator.

12. A refrigerator comprising: a refrigerated space having at least one shelf, a bin removably disposed inside said refrigerated space and located below said at least one shelf, said bin comprising a floor, enclosed sides and a substantially open top, a bin lid located between said shelf and said bin, and suspended from said shelf, wherein said lid has at least two operating conditions, and when in said first operating condition, with said bin in a stored position, said lid is directly above said bin and substantially seals said open top, and when in said second operating condition, with said bin in a stored position, at least a portion of said lid is held away from said bin such that a fluid pathway is opened between said refrigerated space and said bin.

13. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 12, wherein said fluid pathway is located toward a rear of said refrigerated space.

14. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 12 or claim 13, wherein said fluid pathway is proximate to a cool air circulating vent in said refrigerated space, and said refrigerator further includes at least a fan within said vent.

15. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 12, wherein said fluid pathway is opened by action of camming surfaces associated with said lid and an actuator.

16. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 12, wherein said an actuator acts directly on said lid to move said lid away from said bin and open said fluid pathway.

17. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 15, wherein said actuator includes a flexible band moveable in a track.

18. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 12, wherein said fluid pathway is opened by action of a lever.

19. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 12, wherein said lid includes a plurality of grooves on an underside and said grooves are adapted for retaining condensed water, and said lid is disposed at a slight angle from horizontal so said lid is slope toward a draining area.

20. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 12, wherein said refrigerator includes more than one said bin located side by side.

21. A refrigerator as claimed in claim 20, wherein said bin or said bins are located on a drawer for improved withdrawal and insertion from the refrigerator.

Description:

BACKGROUND TO THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates to vegetable bins for use within a refrigerator and more particularly to vegetable bins that are capable of keeping produce fresh for long periods of time.

2. Background

Vegetables and/or fruit are often kept in a lidded food compartment or a food bin in a refrigerator in order to maintain a relatively high level of humidity within the bin to keep the food fresh longer. Lidded food bins are also known to help keep the atmospheric conditions within the bin comparatively stable and reduce the changes that may occur when the refrigerator door is repeatedly opened and closed during normal use. A problem with lidded vegetable bins of the prior art is that they may keep the humidity level within the bin too high for some types of produce and may also lead to excessive “rain out” of moisture. As the vegetables and fruit are generally still respiring, the water produced may increase the relative humidity within the vegetable bin until it becomes saturated and cause water droplets to condense and form on the cold under surface of the vegetable bin lid. In order to keep the vegetables or fruit as fresh as possible and to prolong the edible life of the produce, it is not desirable to allow the condensate to drip onto the vegetables or fruit in the bin. Conversely, it is not desirable to allow the relative humidity of the air within the bin to reduce too far as this may also shorten the shelf life of the fresh produce within the vegetable bin.

The preferred atmospheric conditions within the vegetable/fruit bin can vary depending on the type of fresh produce stored in the bin. Further, the atmospheric conditions outside the refrigerator and those within the refrigerated space but outside the vegetable bin can also affect the conditions within the bin, especially if the air within the bin is allowed to exchange with air outside the bin. Some prior art vegetable bins are provided with small vents on the front in order to be accessible to the user and to allow some air to exchange between the bin and the refrigerated space. The vegetable bins are not particularly effective because they do not allow much of the circulating air to exchange.

Prior art document WO 2004/038312 discloses a refrigerator and vegetable box wherein the vegetable box includes a lid for covering the opening of the vegetable box and keeping the fresh produce within fresh. The lid of this prior art document discloses a series of vents therethrough and a plurality of opening and closing members for opening and closing the cooling vents in the vegetable box cover. The vegetable box cover or lid is supported from an above shelf and the above shelf includes control means which co-operate with the opening and closing members located within the vents of the vegetable box lid. While the method and apparatus disclosed in this prior art document may be effective in exchanging air between the vegetable box and the refrigerator cabinet, the mechanism is complex requiring a number of moving parts and complex shapes which co-operate together with a necessarily high degree of manufacturing tolerance in order to enable the invention.

Therefore it is desirable to provide the user of the refrigerator and vegetable bin with a new way of varying the atmospheric conditions experienced within the vegetable bin, in order that the freshness and shelf life of the produce can be optimised for different types of produce to be stored, and for varying atmospheric conditions outside the vegetable bin. Further, it is desirable that the method and mechanism of controlling and/or varying the atmospheric conditions within the bin are simple and effective in order to improve reliability and/or reduce the cost.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Accordingly it is an object of the present invention to provide a refrigerator and/or vegetable bin which goes some way to overcoming the above problems or which will at least provide the public with a useful choice.

In a first aspect the invention may broadly be said to consist in a refrigerator comprising:

a refrigerated space having at least one shelf,

a bin disposed inside said refrigerated space and located below said at least one shelf, said bin comprising a floor, enclosed sides and a substantially open top,

a bin lid located between said shelf and said bin, and suspended from said shelf and substantially covering and sealing said open top of said bin,

means for selectively holding the lid with at least part of the lid perimeter in an elevated condition out of contact with said lid, with a pathway between said elevated lid perimeter and said bin for communicating gasses between said refrigerated space and the inside of said bin, when said bin is in a fully stored position.

Preferably, wherein said bin when in said stored position, said lid has two operating conditions, and

when said lid is in said first operating condition said lid substantially seals said open top of said bin, and

when in said second operating condition at least a portion of said lid is held away from said bin and a fluid pathway is opened between said bin and said lid.

Preferably said pathway is located toward the rear of said refrigerator.

Preferably said pathway is proximate to a cool air circulating vent in said refrigerator, and said refrigerator further includes at least a fan within said vent.

Preferably said means for holding said lid is associated with said shelf and includes a control camming surface which co-operates with a camming surface of said lid to open said pathway.

Alternatively said holding means operates via a lever to open said pathway.

Alternatively said holding means is an actuator which acts directly on said lid to move said lid away from said bin and open said pathway.

Preferably, said lid includes a plurality of grooves on an underside and said grooves are adapted for retaining condensed water, and said lid is disposed at a slight angle from horizontal so said lid is sloped toward a draining area.

Preferably said refrigerator includes more than one said bin located side by side.

Preferably said bin or said bins are located on a drawer for improved withdrawal and insertion from the refrigerator.

In a further aspect the invention consists in a refrigerator comprising:

a refrigerated space having at least one shelf,

a bin disposed inside said refrigerated space and located below said at least one shelf, said bin comprising a floor, enclosed sides and a substantially open top,

a bin lid located between said shelf and said bin, and suspended from said shelf,

wherein said lid has at least two operating conditions and

when in said first operating condition, with said bin in a stored position, said lid is directly above said bin and substantially seals said open top, and

when in said second operating condition, with said bin in a stored position, at least a portion of said lid is held away from said bin such that a fluid pathway is opened between said refrigerated space and said bin.

Preferably said pathway is opened by action of camming surfaces associated with said lid and an actuator.

Alternatively said pathway is opened by action of a lever.

To those skilled in the art to which the invention relates, many changes in construction and widely differing embodiments and applications of the invention will suggest themselves without departing from the scope of the invention as defined in the appended claims. The disclosures and the descriptions herein are purely illustrative and are not intended to be in any sense limiting.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Embodiments of the invention will now be described by way of example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings in which:

FIG. 1 is a schematic illustration of a refrigerator according to an embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of a vegetable bin and lid according to an embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 3 is a perspective view of a corner of the vegetable bin, lid and shelf of FIG. 2.

FIG. 4 is an exploded assembly view of the actuator mechanism for lifting a vegetable bin lid according to an embodiment of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Preferred embodiments of the present invention will now be described in detail with reference to the accompanying drawings. With reference to FIG. 1 a refrigerator 1 is shown including a fresh food refrigerated space 3 and a frozen food refrigerated space 2, although it will be appreciated that other configurations are also applicable. The refrigerator 1 includes a refrigeration cycle (not shown) for refrigerating the air within the refrigerator to cool the interior. One or more fans 8 may preferably be included within the refrigerator in order to circulate the air within the refrigerated fresh food space 3 and/or frozen food space 2.

The fresh food compartment 3 includes a plurality of shelves 6,7 for supporting articles of food to be stored. Beneath lower shelf 6, is at least one vegetable bin 4 for storing fresh vegetables and keeping them fresh. The bin 5 is preferably made from plastic and includes a floor, enclosed sides and a substantially open top. The bin may be substantially the entire width of the refrigerated space 3 or, alternatively there may be more than one bin, side by side across the width of compartment 3. A multiple bin configuration has the potential advantage that different kinds of fresh produce can be stored in each bin, and different atmospheric conditions can be maintained to suit the varying produce types and their respective needs. The vegetable bin(s) 4 may be supported on a support drawer 9 in order to allow the bin to be smoothly and easily pulled out of the refrigerated cabinet 3. Alternatively, the vegetable bin may be supported directly on the floor of the refrigerated fresh food compartment 3.

In order to substantially seal the bin 4 to keep vegetables fresh, the lower shelf 6 supports a hanging lid or cover 5 over the bin or bins 4. There may be a single lid 5, capable of substantially sealing one or more vegetable bins 4, or there may be provided individually supported lids for each of the bins 4. For simplicity, a preferred embodiment includes a single lid 5 provided for both bins as shown in FIG. 2. The lid 5 of FIG. 2, is supported along its front edge by a engaging with a lip 10 on the front edge of shelf 6. At the rear of the shelf, the lid 5 is supported by a series of hooks which engage with a complementary series of loops associated with the shelf 6 or vice versa. In this way the lid 5 is moveably supported from above by shelf 6 such that the lid remains proximate to the shelf when the bin(s) 4 are removed, but remains able to move vertically within a constrained range. Alternatively, the lid may be supported by flexible straps.

As illustrated in FIGS. 1 and 2, the sides of the bin 4 may be tapered down towards the rear portion in order to allow the bins to be more easily removed by tilting them up upon withdrawal. This feature is useful if for some reason the refrigerator doors are not fully open and cause an obstruction preventing the bins from being completely withdrawn by pulling straight out. In such a case, in order to maintain a seal with the upper perimeter of the vegetable bin walls, the rear portion of the lid 5 is shaped to complement the shape of the vegetable bin. The tapered rear portion of the vegetable bin may also be helpful to allow the bin to be inserted into the space under the lid and be pushed in without impacting the lid. Alternatively, when the vegetable bin is not inserted under the lid, it may also be desirable to bias the lid into a position where the front edge is raised higher in order that the bin can easily be inserted into position without impacting the lid. The lid may be biased by a resilient biasing means or alternatively may be supported eccentrically in such a way that its own weight pulls the rear edge downwards about at least one pivot and thereby raises the front edge slightly to aid insertion of the vegetable bin under the lid.

With reference to the figures, the lid 5 is preferably constructed from a light weight plastics material and is supported in such a way that it can be raised and lowered in the vertical direction a small way and thereby allow a small amount of travel in order that the bin 4 can be slid into and out of position easily. In a normal sealing condition when the bin 4 is inserted into the refrigerated space 3 below the lower shelf 6; as the bin 4 is being pushed in, the rear portions of the bin can slide against and raise the lid slightly guiding into place. Once completely pushed in, the complementary shapes of the lid 5 and the upper perimeter of the bin 4 allow the lid to descend and rest on the bin to substantially form a seal under the weight of the lid 5.

In some situations with the lid 5 sealing the top of the vegetable bin 4, the atmospheric conditions within the bin may become too humid and thereby shorten the shelf life of the bin contents. In other situations however, the recirculation of air within the refrigerated space via the fan(s) 8 may lead to the produce stored in the vegetable bin drying out and spoiling prematurely due to the exchange of moist air within the bin 4 and the dry air circulating in refrigerated space 3. A preferred situation is to enable a user to control and vary the amount of air (if any) which is allowed to exchange between the vegetable bin 4 and refrigerated space 3. In order to allow a user to vary and/or control the atmospheric conditions within the vegetable bin 4, the present invention provides a simple mechanism for lifting the lid 5 so that a varying amount of air within the vegetable bin 5 can be replaced by air circulating within the refrigerated spaces. In this way the communication of air through the opened passage enables the humidity within the vegetable bin to be varied between approximately 85% relative humidity and 100% relative humidity in order to optimise the conditions within the vegetable bin 4 according to the type of fresh produce stored. It is preferred that the method of lifting or holding the lid is discreet and easily accessible and operable by a user with the bins in their stored position. The following describes some examples of preferred embodiments of the present invention. The examples are given for illustrative purposes and are not meant to be limiting within the metes and bounds of the invention.

Lid 5 when in a first operating condition engages overtop the open top of vegetable bin 5 and substantially seals the vegetable bin 5. In this embodiment when the vegetable bin is pushed under the lid or cover 5, the lid or cover may be slightly lifted and rest on the upper perimeter of the vegetable bin walls to form a seal, though it may be imperfect, between the vegetable bin 4 and the lid or cover 5. Alternatively, in a second operating condition, with the bin 4 pushed in, the lid 5 can be raised up a small amount such that a gap exists between the lid and the perimeter of the vegetable bin walls in at least a region of the perimeter, and opens a pathway into and out of the vegetable bin, through which air can communicate and exchange between the bin 4 and the refrigerated space 3.

With reference to FIGS. 2 to 4 a preferred embodiment of a mechanism for lifting lid 5 and opening a pathway between refrigerated space 3 and vegetable bin 4 will now be described. One or more controls 11 are preferably located discretely on the front or upper front edge of lower shelf 6. Controls 11 consists of a sliding element which slides within a track associated with the front edge moulding 12 of the shelf 6. A protruding portion of the controls 11 passes through a slot aperture 13 in the front of moulding 12. In this way a user can slide the control means into positions of far left, far right, and any position therebetween. Referring to FIG. 4, an elongate control member 15 includes control 11 and runs in track 14 which is provided by a corner moulding 16 which is attached to the front and side edges of shelf 6 as illustrated in FIGS. 2 and 3. When flexible control member 15 is fitted into track 14, it will be readily appreciated that horizontal sliding motion of the control 11 within the control aperture 13 will result in movement of the elongate control member within track 14. As illustrated in FIG. 4, translation of the control member 15 around the corner within track 14, will result in an end portion or control tab 17 of control member 15 being translated forwards and/or backwards with respect to the refrigerated space 3. It will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art that this simple sliding mechanism allows a left to right translation of control 11 to be converted into a front to back translation of control tab 17 at a location distant from control 11 on the rear side of the lid. With reference to FIGS. 2 and 3 it can be seen that a number of guides in the form of protrusions and/or recesses 18, 19 may also be provided to ensure that the elongate control member 15 moves within track 14 smoothly and consistently in a substantially constrained manner.

As described previously, lid 5 is loosely supported at its front edge via a lip 10 and supported loosely at its rear by a series of hooks and loops. The lid 5 may be further supported at its sides by control tab 17 of the control member 15. The lid 5 preferably also includes at each side a ramp or camming surface 20. In use, with the bins 4 located beneath the shelf 6 and fully pushed in on drawer 9, the suspended lid 5 is positioned directly above the open top of bin 4. Referring to FIG. 2, with the control 11 located in a position closest to a centre line of the refrigerated space (first operating condition), the complementary camming surfaces of control tab 17 are retracted and makes no effectual contact with camming surface 20 so that no resulting movement of the lid 5 occurs. In this position the lid 5 forms a substantial seal over the open top of the vegetable bins 4 under its own weight. In a second operating condition however, when the control 11 is slid towards the outside of the refrigerator space (second operating condition), the flexible elongate control member 15 slides within track 14 and control tab 17 moves to its second operating condition. The camming surface 20 of lid 5 is positioned such that when control tab 17 is in this second operating condition, the camming surface of control tab 17 interacts with the camming surface 20 of the lid 5 to urge the vegetable bin lid 5 away from the perimeter of the vegetable bin 4 (at least at a portion located near a rear corner) opening a passage way which allows fluid communication and air exchange between the vegetable bin 4 and the refrigerated space 3.

With reference to FIG. 1, it can be seen that the refrigerator 1 includes a fan passageway for distributing refrigerated air around the interior space and a fan 8 within the passage. It is preferable to provide the opening passage between the lid 5 and the bin perimeter 4 described above toward the rear of the refrigerated space and, at a location proximal to an outlet scent of refrigerated air. Further effectiveness of the present invention can be realised by having some of the air emerging from the vent directed over the vegetable bin lid 5 and some of the air directed through the passage between the lid 5 and the bin 4 (if any). This configuration leads to high effectiveness while still maintaining discrete controls which are readily accessible by a user from the front of the bin.

It will be appreciated that movement of control means 11 to positions intermediate of its first and second operating condition describe above, will result in the raising and/or lowering of the lid 5 to a position intermediate between its first substantially sealed condition and its second maximally lifted condition. In this way it will be appreciated that the user has great control over the amount of air which exchanges between the bin and the refrigerated space. With reference to FIG. 2 it is noted that one or other camming surfaces 17 or 20 may have a substantially smooth ramp surface in order to provide essentially continuous variation in lid height, or alternatively may include a series of steps so that the result of the position of control tab 17 is a number of discrete lid positions. Further, camming surface 20 may also include guide portions to ensure that control tab 17 engages consistently and is constrained to act on the camming surface by reducing the potential for miss-alignment.

It will be readily appreciated by those skilled in the art that the illustrative embodiment of the present invention described above is only one way of actuating the desired lifting of the lid with respect to the vegetable bin 4. Many other mechanisms which provide camming surfaces, being either linear, stepped, lobed, or curve-linear may be provided in order to act on the lid 5 and hold it in a position which allows a fluid passage between the lid 5 and the bin 4 to communicate with the bin interior and refrigerated cabinet respectively. Further, it is envisaged that variations in the type of movement utilised to actuate the lid lifting of the present invention may be substituted without departing from the present invention. For example, the sliding of the control 11, may be replaced by a turning motion or the sliding may operate in a different plane or direction than that described by way of example (i.e. horizontal). The essence of the present invention is that the lid 5 is raised in order that a passageway between the bin 4 and the lid 5 is opened. Preferably the location of the opening is near the rear of the refrigerator and close to a vent where air is circulated through. It this way many options for actuation present themselves such as:

    • Camming surfaces included as part of the operating mechanism
    • Opening of the vent gap may occur by actuating a control knob or lever etc or alternatively, the pushing in/pulling out motion of the bin itself may operate the lifting of the lid
    • The lid may be directly actuated by a motorised actuator and controlled manually or alternatively controlled automatically by a control unit in response to measured conditions within the vegetable bin or refrigerated space or according to user settings.
    • The user may turn knobs or operate levers to result in a lifting motion of the lid

It will be appreciated that the humidity control of the present invention may be configurable to provide a number of options relating to how many storage bins 4 are provided and how many lids 5 are provided for each storage bin. Further it will be readily appreciated that controls 11 may be provided independently on both sides of a single lid 5 such as illustrated in FIG. 2 or otherwise. These controls 11 may be actuated independently or alternatively may be coupled together. It will be appreciated by those skilled in the relevant art that independent or coupled controls 11, together with varying combinations of camming surface orientations will result in various combinations of lifting or lowering the lid in different parts of the bin and/or bins. It may in some circumstances for example be preferable to have a single control that lowers one side of the lid while at the same time raises another portion. However, in the preferred embodiment there are provided independent controls 11, which act on a single lid 5, which spans two bins 4. In this configuration, each bin can be maintained at similar or different atmospheric conditions according to what is optimal for the produce stored in each bin.

The lid or cover may also be provided as known in the art with a plurality of linear or otherwise oriented grooves such that the underside of the lid acts as a condensate collector. The dimensions, spacings and disposition of the grooves are such that condensate collecting on the downwardly facing portion as well as the walls of the grooves tends to migrate to the upwardly disposed bases of the grooves under water surface tension. It may be desirable to provide the grooves at a slight angle relative to horizontal when positioned over the food bin. For example, the lid may be constructed such that the tilt of the grooves is a small angle of approximately 2-5°. Therefore, any accumulation of condensate in the grooves can be drained in use to a draining area under gravity. The lifting of one or more corners of the lid to control the relative humidity level within the bin will clearly change the relative angle of the lid with respect to horizontal, at least in portions of the lid. It is envisaged that the slight angle may be increased or decreased via the action of raising the lid. However, given that the preferred raising occurs toward the rear of the lid and the preferred draining area is also at the rear, then raising of the lid is will alter the slop of the lid toward the horizontal. Because the raising of the lid is likely to also decrease the relative humidity of the air in the vegetable bin, the draining angle may become less important even if a slight angle is still maintained.

There are many different ways of providing the lid and/or grooves at a slight angle which are envisaged. The embodiment shown if FIG. 2 is just one of these. Preferably, the loose hooks hold the lid in the required disposition such that grooves are provided on a slight tilt towards the rear inside face of the refrigerator. Accordingly, condensate forming as a result of vegetables or fruit in the bin respiring is collected in the channels and can slowly drain to the draining area where it can evaporate or drain to the back of the refrigerator.