Title:
FREEZE AND HEAT FOOD PREPORTIONING BAG
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A preportioning bag used in food operations where a bulk food supply is divided into portions of smaller size, individual portions are located in a bag, and the bag is stored for use at a later date. The bag includes a front wall and a back wall that are joined so that a main body having closed side and bottom edges is defined. Multiple vents in the form of semi-circular slits are formed in the front and back walls of the bag. The front and back walls are constructed of a material that will withstand freezing and heating by microwave or steam. The bag features a day of the week printed thereon and is color-coded accordingly. A set of the bags may be mounted on a saddle structure.



Inventors:
Mclellan, Robert (El Paso, TX, US)
Davila, Filiberto (El Paso, TX, US)
Ramos, Ana Patricia (El Paso, TX, US)
Application Number:
12/545059
Publication Date:
02/18/2010
Filing Date:
08/20/2009
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
248/95, 383/103
International Classes:
B65D30/00; B65D81/34; A23L3/00; B65B67/12; B65D33/00; B65D33/01; B65D77/08; B65D83/08; G09F23/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
PASCUA, JES F
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MICHAEL J. CHERSKOV (CHICAGO, IL, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A preportioning bag used in food operations where a bulk food supply is divided into portions of smaller size, individual portions are located in a bag, and the bag is stored for use at a later date, comprising: a. a front wall; b. a back wall; c. said front wall and back wall joined so that a main body having closed side and bottom edges and an open top is defined; d. at least one vent formed in said main body, said at least one vent comprising at least one semi-circular slit wherein the semi-circular slit is adapted to remain substantially closed during freezing; e. a closure for the open top of the bag; and f. said front and back walls constructed of a material that will withstand freezing and heating with said at least said one vent permitting heat to escape when a food portion is heated in the bag; wherein a central plastic strip is connected to the main body by a perforated line.

2. The preportioning bag of claim 1 wherein the central plastic strip includes an opening adapted to receive a peg of a saddle structure.

3. The preportioning bag of claim 1 wherein the main body excludes vents other than slits.

4. The preportioning bag of claim 1 wherein the main body further comprises an array of vents wherein the array of vents comprises at least two semi-circular slits.

5. The preportioning bag of claim 4 wherein the array of vents further comprises semi-circular slits wherein each slit defines a distal lip formed from a flap.

6. The preportioning bag of claim 5 wherein the semi-circular slits comprising the array of vents are arranged so that the distal lip of each semi-circular slit does not oppose the distal lip of an immediately adjacent semi-circular slit.

7. The preportioning bag of claim 5 wherein the semi-circular slits comprising the array of vents are arranged so that the distal lip of each semi-circular slit opens in the same direction as the distal lip of all remaining slits comprising the array of vents.

8. The preportioning bag of claim 4 wherein the array of vents extends over substantially the entirety of the main body of the preportioning bag.

9. The preportioning bag of claim 4 wherein the spacing of the vents comprising the array of vents is proportional to the dimensions of the main body.

10. A system used in food operations where a bulk food supply is divided into portions of smaller size, individual portions are located in a bag, and the bag is stored for use at a later date, comprising: a. a plurality of preportioning bags, each bag including: i) a front wall; ii) a back wall; iii) said front wall and back wall joined so that a main body having closed side and bottom edges and an open top is defined; iv) at least one vent formed in said main body, said at least one vent comprising at least one semi-circular slit; wherein the semi-circular slit is adapted to remain substantially closed during freezing; v) a closure for the open top of the bag; and vi) said front and back walls constructed of a material that will withstand freezing and heating with said at least one vent permitting heat to escape when a food portion is heated in the bag; and b. a saddle structure supporting the plurality of preportioning bags; c. a central plastic strip to which the plurality of preportioning bags are joined by perforated lines, said central plastic strip resting on the saddle structure so that the preportioning bags are mounted thereon.

11. The system of claim 10 wherein the saddle structure includes a peg and the central plastic strip includes an opening that engages the peg of the saddle structure.

12. The system of claim 10 wherein each preportioning bag main body excludes vents other than slits.

13. The system of claim 10 wherein the main body further comprises an array of vents wherein the array of vents comprises at least two semi-circular slits.

14. The system of claim 13 wherein the array of vents further comprises semi-circular slits wherein each slit comprises a distal lip formed from a flap.

15. The system of claim 14 wherein the semi-circular slit vents comprising the array of vents are arranged so that the distal lip of each semi-circular slit does not oppose the distal lip of an immediately adjacent semi-circular slit.

16. The system of claim 15 wherein the semi-circular slit vents comprising the array of vents are arranged so that the distal lip of each semi-circular slit opens in the same direction as the distal lip of all remaining vents comprising the array of vents.

17. The system of claim 13 wherein the array of vents extends over substantially the entirety of the main body of the preportioning bag.

18. The system of claim 13 wherein the spacing of the vents which comprise the array of vents is proportional to the dimensions of the main body.

19. The system of claim 15 wherein the semi-circular slit vents comprising the array of vents are arranged so that the distal lip of each semi-circular slit opens in the same direction as the distal lip of all remaining vents comprising the array of vents and wherein the semi-circular slits vents occupy only one side of the main body of the bag.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims the priority benefit, as a continuation-in-part application, of currently-pending U.S. Utility application Ser. No. 10/796,725 filed on Mar. 9, 2004.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates to food preportioning bags of the type used in food handling facilities such as restaurants and, in particular, to a food preportioning bag that, when filled, may be frozen and heated.

In a typical situation, restaurants or the like receive food such as vegetables, shrimp or chicken in bulk form. In off-peak hours, employees divide the food into individual portions so that when the restaurant is busy, there will be no time wasted preparing such portions.

It has become a common practice to store the individual portions in separate plastic bags to preserve freshness and for ease of handling. Since it was recognized that the preparation of the bulk food and the preportioning thereof might occur on a different day through the use thereof, a system needed to be developed which would insure that the oldest product in storage was used first. Since it was seldom, if ever, desirable to use such food more than one week after storage, such systems evolved into simply indicating the day on which the portioning took place or by which the food must be used. “Tuesday” food in storage would then be used before “Wednesday” food, etc.

Marking pens could be utilized to write the day on the bags but this method is unreliable due to erasure or smudging, and the method is also time consuming. Adhesive labels, each having a separate day printed thereon, became a more acceptable practice. Such labels were also color coded so that workers would be able to recognize a “Wednesday” label by its red color; a “Thursday” label by its brown color, etc. This facilitated selection of the correct day label from the inventory of labels for application to the bags of preportioned food, and it also facilitated selection of the bags from storage on or before the “use by” day.

The application of the adhesive labels still added time to the preportioning operation which is a problem recognized in U.S. Pat. No. 5,642,605 to Termer et al. The plastic bags disclosed therein each have a separate day of the week printed thereon, the printing preferably being in the same separate colors that were used on the adhesive labels. With these bags, it was only necessary to select from the inventory of bags those marked with the day that the preportioning is taking place or the “use by” day. This eliminated the time needed for applying a label to each bag.

The bagged individual food portions are often frozen during storage and must be heated prior to use. As a result, the use of preportioning bags is made even more convenient if the food preportioning bags may be frozen and heated in a microwave and/or steamed. Such a bag would streamline the process of preparing the food in the bag for serving or other use in that the bag could simply be removed from freezer storage and heated without removing the food from the bag. The prior art has failed to disclose a food preportioning bag that provides such freezer to microwave or steamer to plate capability.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates to food preportioning bags which enable still further efficiencies in the portioning, storage and preparation of food initially in bulk form. In accordance with the invention, at least seven sets of bags are provided. The bags are printed with day identification indicia in multiple languages. In addition, the bags are color-coded to reflect the day imprinted on the bags. As a result, the bags may be easily identified for use. A set of clear bags is also provided and each bag of the set features a blank instead of day identification indicia so that specific dates may be marked on the bags.

The bags are constructed from a material that will withstand freezing, microwave heating and steaming. The bags also are provided with vents. As a result, the food within the bags may be frozen and heated without removal from the bags. The bags may be mounted on a “saddle” for ease of use.

For a more complete understanding of the nature and scope of the invention, reference may now be had to the following detailed description of embodiments thereof taken in conjunction with the appended claims and accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is perspective view of an embodiment of the bags of the invention shown in assembled relationship on a saddle structure;

FIG. 2 is a plan view of the front of one of the bags of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a plan view of the back of the bag of FIG. 2;

FIG. 4 is a schematic view of an embodiment of the bag vent of the invention;

FIG. 5 is a plan view of the front of one of the bags of FIG. 1 pursuant to an embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 6 is a plan view of the front of one of the bags of FIG. 1 pursuant to an embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 7 is a plan view of the front of one of the bags of FIG. 1 pursuant to an embodiment of the invention; and

FIG. 8 is another a plan view of the front of one of the bags of FIG. 1 pursuant to an embodiment of the invention.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

The drawings illustrate a preportioning bag 10 having a main body portion 12 with closed side edges 14 and a closed bottom edge 16. With reference to FIG. 2, a front overlay 18 may be folded along the edge 20 into overlying relationship with the front wall 21 of the main body portion and secured at its sides 22 by heat sealing to the main body portion. The back wall of the main body portion, illustrated at 23 in FIG. 3, includes an extension 24 which may be tucked within the bag after filling. The free edge 26 of the overlay 18 is then pulled over the open top of the bag to form a closure. It is to be understood, however, that the bag 10 could use a different sealing method. For example, the bag could use a zipper type locking seal located near the tops of the front wall 21 and back wall 23.

Preportioning bag 10 is constructed of a plastic material that will withstand freezing, microwave heating and steaming. High Molecular Weight-High Density Polyethylene is the preferred material. In addition, as indicated at 28, the front wall 21 and rear wall 23 of the bag are provided with vents 28. These vents preferably consist of multiple semi-circular slits cut into the front and rear walls of the bag. While semi-circular slits are illustrated, the shape and number of the slits may vary. The vents permit vapor to escape the bag during heating so that the pressure within the bag does not rise to an excessive level. As a result, the preportioning bags of the invention may be used to store and prepare food so that it is travels in the bags directly from the freezer to the microwave or steamer to the plate or other use.

As illustrated in FIGS. 1 and 2, the bags of this invention have the text “Use by End of Day XXXX” printed thereon, where XXXX is one of the seven days of the week, as shown at 30. Separate printed blocks 32 are provided for the text in foreign languages such as French, Spanish and Haitian Creole. While the set of bags illustrated in FIGS. 1 and 2 indicate “Sunday” as the day of the week, at least six other sets of bags are preferably provided for a total of seven sets of bags. As a result, each day of the week has a dedicated set of bags that are marked with that day's name, and the accompanying text, in English, French, Spanish and Haitian Creole. It is to be understood that additional or alternative foreign languages may be provided on each bag. In addition, identification indicia other than a day of the week may be preprinted on the bags.

The bags of a set are all of one color. The bag sets are preferably color-coded to the seven days of the week with the selected colors following conventional practice as follows:

Sunday—Black Monday—Blue Tuesday—Yellow Wednesday—Red Thursday—Brown Friday—Green Saturday—Orange

In addition, a clear set of bags may be provided (for a total of eight sets of bags) with blanks where the day of the week appears in FIGS. 1 and 2 so that a specific date, as opposed to a day of the week, may be marked on the bag with a marker. In one form of the practice of the invention, a set of bags are manufactured in the form shown in FIG. 1. Specifically, the extension 24 of each bag is attached along a perforated line 38 to a central plastic strip 40. A pair of heat welds 41a and 41b, that are formed using standard heat welding techniques known in the industry, secure the set of bags together via the strip 40. In addition, the strip 40 defines openings 42 which receive pegs 44 of saddle structure 46. As illustrated, a bag 10 is releasably attached to each side edge of the strip 40 so that the bags are accessible on both sides of the saddle structure.

During a preportioning operation, workers will fill an appropriately-marked bag while on the saddle and then tear the bag off. Alternatively, workers will simply tear a bag away from the saddle structure and fill it with the desired portion. If the clear bag is used, that is, the bag that features blanks where the day is in FIGS. 1 and 2, the day by which the food should be used may be marked in any desirable fashion.

FIG. 4 shows a detailed view of the vent 28 used on the preportioning bag 10, in accordance with the embodiment of the invention wherein the preportioning bag 10 contains semi-circular slits as the vent 28. As shown in FIG. 4, each semi-circular slit vent 28 comprises a cut 52 and the cut 52 forms a flap 50. The free end of the flap 50 forms a distal lip 51. Each of the semi-circular slit vents 28 shown in FIG. 4 is used to provide a means to transfer fluid between a first side (e.g., an inside surface) 54 of the preportioning bag 10 wall and a second side (e.g., an outside surface) 56 of the preportioning bag 10 wall so as to minimize the difference in pressure exerted on each of the two sides. The flap 50 is able to move in response to pressure changes, Δpressure, wherein Δpressure is defined as the difference in the pressure at the first side 54 of the preportioning bag 10 and the pressure at the second side 56 of the preportioning bag 10.

In instances where Δpressure is greater than zero, the pressure at the first side 54 of the preportioning bag 10 wall is larger than the pressure at the second side 56 of the preportioning bag 10 wall. As the Δpressure reaches a critical positive amount, the flap 50 opens outwardly without crossing the plane formed by the inside surface of the preportioning bag 10 consequently, breaching the containment between the first side 54 and the second side 56. Conversely, the outwardly protruding flap traverses the plane formed by the outside surface 56 of the bag at an angle greater than zero and less than 180 degrees.

If Δpressure is less than zero, the pressure at the second side 56 of the preportioning bag 10 wall is greater than the pressure at the first side 54 of the preportioning bag 10 wall. As Δpressure reaches a critical negative amount, the flap 28 collapses or opens inwardly and perpendicularly to the plane defined by the inside wall 54 of the preportioning bag 10, in turn breaching the containment between the first side 54 and the second side 56 equalizing the pressure exerted on each side.

Following the opening of the flap 50, in either direction, the Δpressure decreases, eventually approaching zero. The rate at which Δpressure decreases is a function of the number of semi-circular slit vents 28 that are triggered to an open state in response to the increase or decrease in Δpressure as well as the size of each semi-circular slit vent 28 that was involved in the action.

The amount of pressure required to actuate the flap at an angle relative to the substrate from which it comprises depends on several factors. For example, the weight of the substrate will determine the inertia of the static hanging flap. Also, the length of the flap will determine the degree in which the vent opens and closes. Flaps in excess of 0.25 inches in length for example, will protrude that distance from the substrate surface in rapid heating, or high heat scenarios whereby the inside surface 54 of the bag experiences a net positive pressure buildup compared to the outside surface 56 of the bag. However, such a flap length provides a means to keep pressure inside the bag given the inertia or moment of the flap to be overcome. Full extension of the flap occurs when optimal pressure inside the bag is attained.

Pursuant to the instant invention, the actuation of the flap occurs in such a manner that the flap remains visible to the user at all times. The flap is not, for instance, covered by another layer or otherwise made inaccessible to the user of the bag. Instead, the status of each flap is subject to visual inspection by the user at any time, either during cooking, heating, or freezing of the bag. Further, the flaps are accessible to the user and so can are directly manipulated by the user if the user needs to do so. For instance, if one of the flaps has malfunction and is stuck in the open position, prior to freezing the bag and the contents the user may activate a flap and substantially close the semi-circular slit. Similarly, if the flaps fail to open, due to obstruction for instance, the user can open the flaps manually during cooking, especially if the cooking is occurring in an environment wherein the bag is not difficult to directly access, such as in microwave cooking. The combination of visual inspection and direct access allow the user to use the bag in highly variable environments moving the bag from freezing to cooking.

The embodiment shown in FIG. 5 consists of a preportioning bag 10 having a series of semi-circular slit vents 28 arranged on at least one wall of the preportioning bag 10. In some embodiments of the invention the vents extend on only the front wall 21 or only on the back wall 23. In other embodiments, the vents extend through both walls forming the preportioning bag 10.

In at least one embodiment, the vents 28 consist of semi-circular slits to the exclusion of other vents.

Further, in at least some embodiments the semi-circular slit vents 28 comprise a venting array 70. The venting array 70 comprises an arrangement of at least two semi-circular slit vents 28. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 5, the venting array consists of six vents. The venting array is further subdivided into a first subportion 72 and a second subportion 74, as shown by dashed lines in FIG. 5. Each venting array subportion contains at least one semi-circular slit vent 28 associated therewith.

In the embodiment shown in FIG. 5, the venting array comprises solely semi-circular slit vents 28 in both the first subportion 72 and the second subportion 74. Further, in the embodiment shown in FIG. 5, in each corresponding subportion 72 and 74, the slits comprising the subportion are arranged so that the distal lip 51 or free end of each flap 50 of each corresponding semi-circular slit vent 28 does not oppose the distal lip of a flap of an immediately adjacent semi-circular slit vent 28.

The arrangement wherein semi-circular slit vent 28 flaps 50 open in the same direction is shown in FIG. 6. The arrangement in FIG. 6 allows the user to see which direction all of the flaps will open in the same arc of radius contained in a plane that is perpendicular to the plane formed by the substrate defining the vents. Where vent flaps are so arranged along one end or side of a bag such that the distal lips of the flaps all open in the same direction, this flap configuration provides a means for arranging the bag to either minimize or maximize fluid exchange during heating. For example, if all of the flaps are arranged in substantially a straight line along an edge of a bag, and all of the distal lips of those flaps open in the same direction, then observation of that flap arrangement will provide the user with a means for placing the bag in a microwave oven such that the flaps will finally open upwardly toward the ceiling of the oven, or downwardly toward the base of the oven.

In instances where the user wishes to regulate venting of fluid from the bag from some vents but not other vents, the user simply lays the bag flat against the base of the microwave such that the flaps formed in the side of the bag laying flat against the base of the microwave are prevented from opening while the side of the bag facing toward the ceiling of the microwave are free to actuate after a positive pressure build up from the inside of the bag.

Further, if all the vents do not open in the same direction, as is shown in FIG. 5, if the microwave heating plate exerts a spinning motion on the bag, a centrifugal force will be exerted on at least some of the semi-circular slits. Consequently, some of the semi-circular slits will experience an additional closing force. In applications where the centrifugal force variation is not desired, the embodiment shown in FIG. 6, wherein all slits face the same way, may be used instead.

In one embodiment, the spacing and the frequency of the semi-circular slit vents 28 is proportional to the size of the bag as well as the subportion 72, 74 of the venting array 70 where the semi-circular slit vents are located. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 5, the vents comprising the second subportion 74 of the venting array 70 are spaced three times more frequently than the semi-circular vents 28 in the first subportion 72 of the venting array 70. The more frequent spacing of semi-circular vents 28 in the second subportion 74 ensures that the second subportion 74 semi-circular vents 28 are engaged in venting more frequently than the semi-circular vents 28 of the first subportion 72 of the venting array 70.

In the embodiment shown in FIG. 5, the first venting array subportion 72 and the second venting array subportion 74 are separated by a space 76. The space 76 is proportional to the size of the first venting array subportion 72. In one embodiment, the size of the space 76 is set to 125 percent of the length of the first subportion 72 of the venting array 70.

In the embodiment shown in FIG. 5, the number of semicircular slits as well as the space 76 separating the first subportion 72 and the second subportion 74 is optimized to allow venting of the bag contents during heating, while minimizing loss of bag contents during the food preparation process. As shown in the FIG. 5 embodiment, six slits are optimal to vent a bag having a width λ of 11 inches and length φ of 10 inches. The space 76 separating the semi-circular slits comprising the first subportion 72 from the slits comprising the second subportion 74 is 2.5 inches in the embodiment shown in FIG. 5. Semi-circular slits on the bag 10 are separated from one another by either a shorter distance 80 which is 2.5 inches or a longer distance 78 which is 3 inches. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 5, the distance between the slits alternates between the shorter distance 80 and the longer distance 78. Further, in the embodiment shown in FIG. 5, the shorter distance 80 is approximately equivalent to the space 76 between the first subportion 72 and the second subportion 74. In turn, the longer distance 78 is equivalent to the space between the holes 42 at the top of the bag.

The venting array 70 is approximately horizontally centered on the lower portion of the bag 10. A side margin distance 82 separates the venting array from either side of the bag 10. A bottom margin distance 84 separates the venting array 70 from the bottom of the bag 10. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 5, the bottom margin 84 is 1.25 inches while the side margin 82 is 1.5 inches.

While FIGS. 5 and 6 showed embodiments wherein each side of the bag 10 contained six vents, other arrangements are contemplated. For example, in FIG. 7, the first venting array subportion 72 contains four semi-circular slits, with a vertical space 86 separating each of the semi-circular slits comprising the first venting array subportion 72. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 7, the vertical space 86 is approximately equivalent to the space 76 separating the first venting array subportion 72 from the second venting subportion 74. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 7, the space 86 and space 76 is approximately 1.25 inches.

Further the embodiment shown in FIG. 8 contains semi-circular slit vents having a flap 50 on only one side of the bag. Therefore, the embodiment depicted in FIG. 8 contains only three semi-circular slits vents per side of the bag. Therefore the venting capacity of the embodiment shown in FIG. 8 is less than the venting capacity of embodiments shown in other figures.

The embodiment shown in FIG. 7 is useable in instances where the Δpressure anticipated during the cooking process is expected to fluctuate. These fluctuations occur when the contents of the bag releases large quantity of steam during the cooking process. The selection of the bag having the set number of vents would be made to ensure even cooking with sufficient pressure release.

The proportioning bags 10 are used in temperatures ranging from conventional and commercial freezing. The semi-circular slits are designed so as to remain closed and not be affected by freezing. In one embodiment, the proportioning bag is designed to remain substantially closed in temperatures as low as −40 degrees Fahrenheit. Further, during the cooking phase, which normally occurs in water which is either boiling or close to boiling, the semi-circular slits are designed to retain the shape and either open or remain closed as Δpressure changes.

Another embodiment of the invention consists of a method to add the venting array 70 to a preportioning bag 10. Pursuant to the procedure, a preportioning bag 10 is placed on a flat surface wherein the surface is cut resistant. A set of cutting instruments, not shown, is arranged in close proximity to the preportioning bag 10. The cutting instruments are arranged to form the venting array 70 on the preportioning bag 10 once the cutting instruments are brought to strike the outer surface of the bag 10. Inasmuch as the semi-circular slit vents 28 are cut into the preportioning bag 10, the semi-circular slit vents 28 are integrally molded into the preportioning bag 10. Furthermore, the semi-circular slit vents 28 and the wall of the preportioning bag 10 into which the slits are cut comprises the same substrate. The semi-circular slits are not separately attached nor are they applied to an external substrate and affixed unto the bag 10 with an adhesive.

In one embodiment, the semi-circular slits are formed by simultaneous contact by an array of cutting blade puncher cutting instruments with the bag 10 substrate. The array of cutting blade puncher cutting instruments is arranged so as to form the desired venting array.

It will be understood that various changes and additions may be made in the subject matter of the invention without departing from the spirit of the invention particularly as defined in the following claims.