APPARATUS AND METHOD FOR CONTAINING EDIBLE ITEMS

An apparatus for containing one or more edible items includes a container having a base and a wall, a first thermal element, and a securing mechanism for removably securing the first thermal element relative to the container, wherein the first thermal element comprises a housing that contains a phase-change material. An apparatus for containing one or more edible items includes a container having a base and a wall, a thermal element having a housing that contains a phase-change material, wherein the thermal element is selectively placeable at a first position and a second position, a first securing mechanism for removably securing the thermal element relative to the container when the thermal element is at the first position, and a second securing mechanism for removably securing the thermal element relative to the container when the thermal element is at the second position.

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Description
FIELD

This application relates generally to apparatus and method for containing edible items.

BACKGROUND

Food containers, such as lunch boxes, pizza delivery bags, bottles, coffee mugs, cups, coolers, etc., have been used to carry edible items. However, existing food containers may not provide adequate thermal property for storing the edible items. As such, hot edible items carried using existing food containers may become cold (e.g., reach room temperature) shortly after they are placed inside the containers. Similarly, cold edible items carried using existing food containers may become warm (e.g., reach room temperature) shortly after they are placed inside the containers. Applicant of the subject application determines that it would be desirable to have an apparatus and method for containing edible items so that edible items may be maintained at a desired temperature range for a longer period of time.

SUMMARY

In accordance with some embodiments, an apparatus for containing one or more edible items includes a container having a base and a wall, a first thermal element, and a securing mechanism for removably securing the first thermal element relative to the container, wherein the first thermal element comprises a housing that contains a phase-change material.

In accordance with other embodiments, an apparatus for containing one or more edible items includes a container having a base and a wall, a thermal element having a housing that contains a phase-change material, wherein the thermal element is selectively placeable at a first position and a second position, a first securing mechanism for removably securing the thermal element relative to the container when the thermal element is at the first position, and a second securing mechanism for removably securing the thermal element relative to the container when the thermal element is at the second position.

Other and further aspects and features will be evident from reading the following detailed description of the embodiments, which are intended to illustrate, not limit, the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The drawings illustrate the design and utility of embodiments, in which similar elements are referred to by common reference numerals. These drawings are not necessarily drawn to scale. In order to better appreciate how the above-recited and other advantages and objects are obtained, a more particular description of the embodiments will be rendered, which are illustrated in the accompanying drawings. These drawings depict only typical embodiments and are not therefore to be considered limiting of its scope.

FIG. 1 illustrates a food container in accordance with some embodiments;

FIG. 2 illustrates the food container of FIG. 1, showing the food container in an open configuration;

FIGS. 3A-3C illustrate a method of using the food container of FIG. 1 in accordance with some embodiments;

FIG. 4 illustrates another food container in accordance with other embodiments;

FIG. 5 illustrates another food container in accordance with other embodiments;

FIG. 6 illustrates another food container in accordance with other embodiments;

FIG. 7 illustrates the cover of the food container of FIG. 6 in accordance with other embodiments;

FIG. 8 illustrates another food container in accordance with other embodiments;

FIG. 9 illustrates another food container in accordance with other embodiments;

FIGS. 10A and 10B illustrates food containers in accordance with other embodiments;

FIG. 11 illustrates a cup coupled to a PCM module in accordance with some embodiments;

FIG. 12 illustrates a lunch box coupled to a PCM module in accordance with some embodiments; and

FIG. 13 illustrates a bottle coupled to a PCM module in accordance with some embodiments.

DESCRIPTION OF THE EMBODIMENTS

Various embodiments are described hereinafter with reference to the figures. It should be noted that the figures are not drawn to scale and that elements of similar structures or functions are represented by like reference numerals throughout the figures. It should also be noted that the figures are only intended to facilitate the description of the embodiments. They are not intended as an exhaustive description of the invention or as a limitation on the scope of the invention. In addition, an illustrated embodiment needs not have all the aspects or advantages shown. An aspect or an advantage described in conjunction with a particular embodiment is not necessarily limited to that embodiment and can be practiced in any other embodiments even if not so illustrated.

FIG. 1 illustrates an apparatus 10 for containing food in accordance with some embodiments. As used in this specification, the word “food” or “edible item(s)” refers to any item that is edible by a human, including and not limited to solid and liquid substance. As shown in the figure, the apparatus 10 includes a container 12, a cover 14, and a handle 16 attached to the cover 14. The container may be made from any materials, such as plastic, silicone, etc. In other embodiments, the handle 16 may be attached to the container 12 instead. The apparatus 10 also includes a zipper 18 for detachably securing the cover 14 against the container 12. In other embodiments, instead of the zipper 18, the apparatus 10 may include other securing mechanism for detachably securing the cover 14 relative to the container 12.

FIG. 2 illustrates the apparatus 10 of FIG. 1, particularly showing the cover 14 opened relative to the container 12. The apparatus 10 includes two longitudinal walls 30, 32 that are oppositely facing each other, and two side walls 34, 36 that are oppositely facing each other. Although the walls 30-36 have been individually described, in some cases, two or more of the walls 30-36 together may be considered as a single wall. The apparatus 10 also includes a base 38. The walls 30-36 and the base 38 define a space 39 for housing edible item(s). The cover 14 has an underside 40 that faces towards the base 38 when the cover 14 is closed against the container 12. It should be noted that the apparatus 10 is not limited to the configuration shown, and that the apparatus 10 may have other configurations in other embodiments. For example, in other embodiments, instead of the rectangular shape shown, the base 38 of the container 12 may have other shapes, such as a square shape, a circular shape, an elliptical shape, or a custom designed shape.

As shown in the figure, the apparatus 10 also includes a thermal element 44 that has a phase-change material (PCM). As used in this specification, the term “thermal element” refers to any material or device that is configured to undergo temperature change (e.g., be heated or cooled) during use. Also, as used in this specification, the term “phase-change material” refers to any material that undergoes a phase change at a temperature that is suitable for keeping edible item(s) at desired temperature range (e.g., warm or cold).

By means of non-limiting examples, the phase-change material may be sodium acetate, Lauric acid, Trimethylolethane, Sodium silicate, salt hydrates, fatty acids, esters, paraffins (such as octadecane), waxes, organic compounds (e.g. pentacosane, C25H52, Tm=54° C., derived from beeswax; hexacosane, C26H54, Tm=57° C., derived from methane), crystalline alkyl hydrocarbon, density polyethylene, ethylene-vinyl acetate, silica, glycerine, etc. Example of hydrated salts (solid compounds containing definite amounts of bounded water) includes Glauber's salt (sodium sulphate decahydrate, Na2SO4.10H2O). Others include calcium chloride hexahydrate (CaCl26H2O), magnesium chloride hexahydrate (MgCL26H2O), magnesium nitrate hexahydrate (Mg(NO3)26H2O), etc. In some embodiments, the PCM may be non-toxic and odorless.

In the illustrated embodiments, the phase-change material may be contained in housing, which also forms part of the thermal element 44. The housing that contains the phase-change material may have a flexible construction (such as that for a bag) or a rigid construction. In some embodiments, the housing that contains the phase-change material may be made from a material that can withstand temperature that ranges from −10° C. to 150° C. Examples of material that may be used to construct the housing that contains the phase-change material include silicone, etc. Using the silicone to form the housing of the thermal element 44 is advantageous because silicone can withstand high temperature (e.g., 400° C.+), thereby allowing the thermal element 44 to be heated without melting the insert container. Thus, silicone will be very save to contain PCM even when the PCM is heated up to 100° C. and will not melting the container. Silicone can also withstand low temperature (e.g., below 0° C.). Silicone is also non-toxic, and if accidentally consumed by a user, the silicone material will pass through the body. In some embodiments, the housing that contains the phase-change material may be made from a material that can be placed inside a microwave, such that when the phase-change material has been heated by the microwave, the heated phase-change material would not damage the material of the housing. In other embodiments, the housing that contains the phase-change material may be made from a material that can be placed inside a refrigerator (cooler or freezer), such that when the phase-change material has been cooled by the refrigerator, the cooled phase-change material would not damage the material of the housing. In further embodiments, the material(s) that is used to form the housing of the thermal element 44 can be selectively placed in a microwave for heating purpose or in a refrigerator (cooler or freezer) for cooling purpose without being damaged. As shown in the figure, the thermal element 44 has a shape that resembles that of the base 38/cover 14. However, in other embodiments, the thermal element 44 may have a shape that is different from that of the base 38/cover 14. In other embodiments, the thermal element 44 may have different configurations (e.g., sizes, shapes, etc.) from that shown in the figure. Also, in other embodiment, the thermal element 44 may be made from a deformable material that allows a user to form it into different sizes and/or shapes for containers with different configurations (e.g., sizes and/or shapes).

In some embodiments, during use, the thermal element 44 may be heated (e.g., by using a microwave) until the phase-change material has undergone a phase change (e.g., from solid to liquid, and/or from liquid to gas, etc.). The heated thermal element 44 is then secured relative to the container 12 or the cover 14 so that the thermal element 44 may be used to substantially maintain the temperature of the item(s) that is being stored in the container 12. In particular, the thermal element 44 may slowly release heat as the phase-change material changes phase from gas to liquid, and/or from liquid to solid. Such technique may provide heat to items stored in the container 12 for hours. In some cases, when the heat exchange between the item(s) stored in the container 12 and the environment surrounding the container 12 is slowed down (compared to when no thermal element 44 is used) by the use of the thermal element 44, the temperature of the item(s) is considered to be substantially maintained.

In other embodiments, the thermal element 44 may be cooled (e.g., by using a refrigerator, such as placing the thermal element 44 in the cooler or the freezer) until the phase-change material has undergone a phase change (e.g., from gas to liquid, and/or from liquid to solid, etc.). The cooled thermal element 44 is then secured relative to the container 12 or the cover 14 so that the thermal element 44 may be used to substantially maintain the temperature of the item(s) that is being stored in the container 12. In particular, the thermal element 44 may slowly release “cool” as the phase-change material changes phase from solid to liquid, and/or from liquid to gas. Such technique may provide “coolness” to items stored in the container 12 for hours.

FIGS. 3A-3C illustrate a technique of securing the insert 44 relative to the base 38 of the apparatus 10. In the illustrated embodiments, the base 38 of the container 12 includes a first sleeve 50 and a second sleeve 52 that together form a pocket 54. During use, after the thermal element 44 has been heated or cooled, the thermal element 44 may then be placed within the pocket 54. As shown in FIGS. 3B and 3C, the thermal element 44 may first be inserted into one of the sleeves 50, 52, and is then inserted into the other one of the sleeves 50, 52. The sleeves 50, 52 may be stretched open during use to facilitate the insertion of the thermal element 44.

It should be noted that the manner in which the thermal element 44 is detachably coupled to the apparatus 10 is not limited to the example described previously, and that the thermal element 44 may be configured to detachably secured to the apparatus 10 using other mechanisms in other embodiments. For example, in other embodiments, instead of having two sleeves 50, 52, the base 38 may include only one sleeve that defines the pocket 54 for housing the thermal element 44. In other embodiments, the surface of the thermal element 44 have include one or more fastener (e.g., a button, a Velcro™, a magnet, a zipper, etc.) that is configured to detachably couple to a mating fastener (e.g., a button, a Velcro™, a magnet, a zipper, etc.) at the base 38. In further embodiments, the thermal element 44 may be detachably coupled to the base 38 by being laid on top of the base 38. In such cases, the securing mechanism may be friction or surface adhesion.

In other embodiments, instead of having the thermal element 44 detachably secured to the base 38, the thermal element 44 may be detachably secured to the bottom side 40 of the cover 14 in any of the manners described with reference to the base 38. In further embodiments, the apparatus 10 may include two thermal elements 44, wherein one of the thermal elements 44 may be detachably secured to the base 38, and the other one of the thermal elements 44 may be detachably secured to the cover 14. In this case, the thermal elements 44 may have the same construction, and include the same type of phase-change material. Alternatively, the thermal elements 44 may have different configurations (e.g., different shapes, different types of fasteners, etc.) so that one of the thermal elements 44 is dedicated for detachably securement to the base 38, and the other one of the thermal elements 44 is dedicated for detachably securement to the cover 14. In further embodiments, the thermal elements 44 may also contain different types of phase-change materials (e.g., phase-change materials with different transition temperatures). In such cases, one thermal element 44 may be specifically configured for keeping edible item(s) cold, and the other thermal element 44 may be specifically configured for keeping edible item(s) warm.

During use, the thermal elements 44 may be selectively heated (e.g., using a microwave) or cooled (e.g., using a refrigerator), and may then be detachably secured to the container 12 for maintaining temperature of the item(s) stored inside the container 12. For example, in some embodiments, both thermal elements 44 may be heated for keeping item(s) within the container 12 warm. In other embodiments, both thermal elements 44 may be cooled for keeping item(s) within the container 12 cold. In further embodiments, only one of the thermal elements 44 needs to be heated or cooled during use. For example, for the purpose of keeping item(s) in the container 12 warm, the user may heat only one of the thermal elements 44 and place it at the bottom (e.g., at or above the base 38) of the apparatus 10, while for the purpose of keeping item(s) in the container 12 cold, the user may cool only one of the thermal elements 44 and place it at the top (e.g., at or below the cover 14) of the apparatus 10. This is because heat within the stored item(s) tends to travel upward. In some embodiments, the apparatus 10 may further include an indicator 58 coupled to the container for instructing a user to selectively place the thermal element 44 at the bottom for heating purpose, or at the top for cooling purpose.

In any of the embodiments described herein, the apparatus 10 may further include one or more additional thermal element(s) 44 configured to secure to one or more of the walls 30-36 of the container 12. FIG. 4 illustrates the apparatus 10 which further includes pockets 60, 62, 64, 66 at side walls 30, 32, 34, 36, respectively. The pockets 60-66 are configured (e.g., sized and shaped) to thermal elements 70, 72, 74, 76, respectively. Each of the thermal elements 70-76 has a phase-change material as discussed, and may have any of the configurations described previously. Also, each of the pockets 60-66 may have one or more sleeves, as similarly described with reference to the base 38. In further embodiments, instead of using pockets 60-66, each of the thermal elements 70-76 may be detachably coupled to the respective walls 30-36 using any of the techniques described with reference to the base 38.

In the illustrated embodiments, the apparatus 10 further includes a divider 78 that also contains a phase-change material. The divider 78 may be heated or cooled before it is inserted into the space 39 of the container 12. Thus, the divider 78 itself is also a thermal element. The divider 78 may have the same configuration as the thermal element, or alternatively, may have a different configuration. In some cases, the divider 78 may have one or more fastener(s) along one or more of its edge(s) for securing the divider 78 relative to the container 12. The fastener(s) may be used to attach to mating fastener(s) at the walls 30, 32, and/or at the base 38. The divider 78 is advantageous in that it provides a dual function of separating food items while also slowing down the temperature exchange between the food items and the environment surrounding the apparatus 10. In other embodiments, the apparatus 10 is not limited to having one divider 78, and may include a plurality of dividers 78. In further embodiments, the divider 78 is optional, and the apparatus 10 does not include the divider 78.

During use, the thermal elements 70-76 may be heated before they are inserted into the pockets 60-66, respectively. In other embodiments, the thermal elements 70-76 may be cooled before they are inserted into the pockets 60-66. In further embodiments, one or more of the thermal elements 70-76 may be heated, while the remaining ones of the thermal elements 70-76 may be cooled. Such technique has the benefit that the same container 12 may be used to contain both hot (or warm) and cold items, with the heated insert(s) being placed near the hot or warm item(s), and the cooled insert(s) being placed near the cold items.

As illustrated in the above embodiments, the apparatus 10 may have optional slots for multiple thermal elements. In some embodiments, the apparatus 10 may have a slot at the cover 14, a slot at the base 38, and four slots at the side walls 30, 32, 34, 36 of the container 12. In such case, the apparatus 10 may be provided with six thermal elements, which allow a user to selectively place any of them, or any combination of them, into any one(s) of the available slots for heating and/or cooling purpose.

In other embodiments, two or more of the thermal elements described herein may be coupled together. FIG. 5 illustrates a thermal system 80 that includes thermal elements 82-86. The thermal elements 82-86 are coupled together. In some embodiments, each thermal element may include a housing that contains the phase-change material, and the housings may be coupled to each other via a joint that is formed from a flexible material, such as silicone, a polymer, etc. In some embodiments, the material(s) that is used to form the housing and the joint can be placed in a microwave for heating purpose without being damaged. In other embodiments, the material(s) that is used to form the housing and the joint can be placed in a refrigerator (cooler or freezer) for cooling purpose without being damaged. In further embodiments, the material(s) that is used to form the housing and the joint can be selectively placed in a microwave for heating purpose or in a refrigerator (cooler or freezer) for cooling purpose without being damaged.

As discussed, the apparatus 10 is not limited to the shape illustrated in the figures. FIG. 6 illustrates a variation of the apparatus 10 that has a circular cross section. In the illustrated embodiments, the cover 14 may be detachably secured to the container 12 using the screw threads 90 on the container 12 and the mating screw threads (not shown) at the cover 14. The apparatus 10 includes a base thermal element 100 for placement at the base 38 of the container 12, a side thermal element 102 for placement at or near the side wall of the container 12, and a top thermal element 104 for placement at the cover 14. Each of the thermal elements 100, 102, 104 includes a phase-change material as discussed. In some embodiments, the apparatus 10 may optionally further include a handle 120.

In some embodiments, any of the thermal elements 100-104 may include a housing that contains the phase-change material. In some embodiments, the material(s) that is used to form the housing can be placed in a microwave for heating purpose without being damaged. In other embodiments, the material(s) that is used to form the housing can be placed in a refrigerator (cooler or freezer) for cooling purpose without being damaged. In further embodiments, the material(s) that is used to form the housing can be selectively placed in a microwave for heating purpose or in a refrigerator (cooler or freezer) for cooling purpose without being damaged.

In some embodiments, the base 38 includes the pocket 54 (as similarly discussed with reference to FIGS. 3A-3C), and the thermal element 100 may be inserted into the pocket 54. In other embodiments, the base 38 does not include the pocket 54, and the thermal element 100 may be detachably coupled to the base 38 by other mechanisms, such as a fastener (e.g., a button, a Velcro™, a magnet, a zipper, etc.) at the thermal element 100 that is configured to detachably couple to a mating fastener (e.g., a button, a Velcro™, a magnet, a zipper, etc.) at the base 38. In further embodiments, the thermal element 100 may be detachably coupled to the base 38 by being laid on top of the base 38.

In some embodiments, the side thermal element 102 may be detachably coupled to the container 12 by placement into a pocket (not shown) at the wall of the container. The pocket at the wall may be similar to that shown with reference to FIG. 4, except that the pocket has a curvilinear configuration that follows the profile of the container 12. In some cases, the pocket at the wall may be formed using a fabric or any of other flexible materials. Alternatively, the pocket at the wall may be formed from a stiff material. In such cases, the pocket at the wall is formed between an outer wall and an inner wall. Such configuration allows the container 12 to directly hold fluid (e.g., fluid can be poured into the container 12 for storage) or other edible item(s). In other embodiments, the side wall of the container 12 does not include the pocket, and the thermal element 102 may be detachably coupled to the side wall by other mechanisms, such as a fastener (e.g., a button, a Velcro™, a magnet, a zipper, etc.) at the thermal element 102 that is configured to detachably couple to a mating fastener (e.g., a button, a Velcro™, a magnet, a zipper, etc.) at the side wall. In further embodiments, the thermal element 102 may be detachably coupled to the side wall by being placed against the side wall. In such cases, the securing mechanism may be friction or surface adhesion.

As shown in FIG. 7, in some embodiments, the cover 14 of the apparatus of FIG. 6 includes sleeves 110, 112 that define a pocket 114 (as similarly discussed with reference to FIGS. 3A-3C), and the thermal element 104 may be inserted into the pocket 114 at the cover 14. In other embodiments, the cover 14 does not include the pocket 114, and the thermal element 104 may be detachably coupled to the cover 14 by other mechanisms, such as a fastener (e.g., a button, a Velcro™, a magnet, a zipper, etc.) at the thermal element 104 that is configured to detachably couple to a mating fastener (e.g., a button, a Velcro™, a magnet, a zipper, etc.) at the cover 14.

FIG. 8 illustrates another apparatus 10 in accordance with other embodiments. The apparatus 10 includes a container 12, and a cover 14. The cover 14 may be detachably secured to the container 12 using the screw threads 90 on the container 12 and the mating screw threads (not shown) at the cover 14. The apparatus 10 may also optionally include a handle 120 in some embodiments. In the illustrated embodiments, the apparatus 10 also includes a base unit 130 that contains a phase-change material 132. In such cases, the base unit 130 itself may be considered to be a thermal element. The base unit 130 includes screw threads 134 that allow the base unit 130 to be detachably secured to the bottom of the container 12. Similar to the base unit 130, the cover 14 also includes a phase-change material 136. In such cases, the cover 14 may also be considered to be a thermal element.

In the illustrated embodiments, the phase-change material 132 is built within the base unit 130, and is therefore non-removeable from the base unit 130. Also, the phase-change material 136 is built within the cover 14, and is therefore non-removeable from the cover 14. In such cases, the base unit 130 and the cover 14 may be considered respective thermal elements.

In other embodiments, the phase-change materials 132, 136 may be removeable from the base unit 130 and the cover 14, respectively. For example, the phase-change material 132 may be contained in a housing of a thermal element that is removably attachable to the base unit 130. Similarly, the phase-change material 136 may be contained in a housing of a thermal element that is removably attachable to the cover 14.

During use, the cover 14 with the phase-change material and/or the base unit 130 with the phase-change material may be selectively heated (e.g., using a microwave) or cooled (e.g., using a refrigerator), and may then be detachably secured to the container 12 for maintaining temperature of the item(s) stored inside the container 12. For example, in some embodiments, both phase-change materials 132, 136 may be heated for keeping item(s) within the container 12 warm. In other embodiments, both phase-change materials 132, 136 may be cooled for keeping item(s) within the container 12 cold. In further embodiments, only one of the'phase-change materials 132, 136 needs to be heated or cooled during use. For example, for the purpose of keeping item(s) in the container 12 warm, the user may heat only the phase-change material 132 at the bottom of the apparatus 10, while for the purpose of keeping item(s) in the container 12 cold, the user may cool only the phase-change material 136 at the top of the apparatus 10. This is because heat within the stored item(s) tends to travel upward. In some embodiments, the apparatus 10 may further include an indicator 140 coupled to the container for instructing a user to selectively use the phase-change material 132 at the base unit 130 for heating purpose, or the phase-change material 136 at the cover 14 for cooling purpose.

Alternatively, instead of heating or cooling the cover 14, if the phase-change material is detachably securable to the cover 14, then the phase-change material in the housing may be heated or cooled, and it is then secured to the cover 14. Similarly, instead of heating or cooling the base unit 130, if the phase-change material is detachably securable to the base unit 130, then the phase-change material in the housing may be heated or cooled, and it is then secured to the base unit 130.

As illustrated in the above embodiments, using a phase-change material for maintaining temperature of edible item(s) is advantageous because it is a convenient to use, and is capable of maintaining the edible item(s) at a desired temperature range (e.g., above room temperature, and more preferably, above 50° C., or below room temperature, and more preferably below 15° C.) for a relatively longer period (compared to existing food containers). This is because PCM may store 5-14 times more heat per unit volume than conventional storage material. The phase-change material may be reused over and over for the purpose of keeping item(s) warm or cold.

Also, making the phase-change material to be detachably securable to the container is beneficial because it allows the phase-change material to be replaced if its performance has been degraded, or if the housing of the phase-change material is damaged. Also, the removable phase-change material can be easily removed from the container for cleaning. Making the phase-change material to be detachably securable to the container is also beneficial in that it may allow different configurations of the phase-change material—e.g., a user may selectively place the phase-change material at different locations relative to the container. Also, in some cases, if higher heat is needed and/or if longer heating is needed, multiple heated PCM module can be selectively used together by detachably coupling to the container. Alternatively, if more cooling is needed and/or if longer cooling is needed, multiple cooled PCM module can be selectively used together by detachably coupling to the container.

The detachability of the thermal element 44 from the container 12 also provides for food safety. This is because a lot of the plastic containers contain diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP). If such container containing the food is directly heated by microwave, the DEHP will be released to the food that is directly touching the plastic container when the food is overheated. When using detachable thermal element 44 (PCM module), the thermal element 44 (without it being attached to the container 12) may be heated in a microwave, and the heated thermal element 44 is then coupled to the container 12. Thus, the container 12 does not need to be directly heated by microwave. In some cases, if the thermal element 44 is coupled to the outside surface of the container 12, heat is transferred to outside surface of the container 12. Thus, the inside surface of the container 12 will not be overheated, and if the container 12 includes DEHP, the DEHP will not be released to the food.

Also, embodiments of the PCM container described herein are particularly desirable for school application. Many of the elementary, middle, and high schools do not have microwave oven for student, because of school safety concern. In particular, schools are concerned with over heating and radiation that may result from use of microwave, thereby causing injury. Schools are also concerned with long waiting line, and mishandling of the microwave. PCM container is prefect for the school application because it may keep the food warm for at least 4 to 5 hours before the usage in some embodiments. Existing lunch boxes may keep food warm within the 1st hour and are therefore not desirable for school application (as sometimes students may be in classes for more than an hour before lunch break). Embodiments of the PCM container described herein are also perfect for picnic and hot food delivery application, like pizza cooking and pizza delivery. In some embodiments, pizza may be cooked when the PCM containing the pizza is heated up above 100° C. In some cases, the pizza may be continued to be cooked and/or kept warm for at least one hour. Also, in some embodiments, an uncooked pizza (or other food) may be placed in a PCM container, and the pizza (or other food) may then be delivered. During the transport of the pizza (or other food), the PCM container will cook the pizza. Such technique saves time and provides high efficiency in food delivery.

The detachability of the thermal element 44 from the container 12 also allows a user to selectively decide how many thermal element(s) to use with the container 12. For example, a user may selectively decide to heat up one or more PCM module(s) inside a microwave oven simultaneously. The heated PCM module(s) is then coupled to the container. If more heat is desired, the user may selectively use more PCM modules with the container 12.

The detachability of the thermal element 44 from the container 12 also allows the container 12 to keep item(s) warm or cool because the user can replace the PCM module(s) repetitively. For example, a PCM module can be heated to 120 C+, and the heated PCM module can be used to directly heat frozen food for 10-15 minutes with high PCM temperature. If more heating is desired, the PCM module can be reheated in a microwave oven, and be used again to continue to apply heat to the food.

It should be noted that the thermal elements described herein do not need to be heated or cooled separately from the container 12 in some embodiments. For example, in some embodiments, the user may selectively choose to place the PCM in the container 12, or the PCM may be fixedly secured to the container 12 (e.g., during a manufacturing process), so that the container 12 with the PCM can be heated up together inside the microwave oven, which is more convenient. In other embodiments, the user may selectively choose to place the PCM in the container 12, or the PCM may be fixedly secured to the container 12 (e.g., during a manufacturing process), so that the container 12 with the PCM can be cooled together inside a refrigerator, which is more convenient.

FIG. 9 illustrates another apparatus 10 that includes a container 12 with multiple compartments 180a, 180b. The compartments 180a, 180b allow a user to selectively place hot food, cold food, or combination of hot and cold food therein. For example, in one method of use, the user may selectively place beverage (e.g., soda) in compartment 180a for cooling the beverage, and selectively place food (e.g., pasta) in compartment 180b for heating the food. In such cases, the user may place a cooled thermal element 44a at the top of compartment 180a, and a heated thermal element 44b at the bottom of compartment 180b. This is because cooled air may go downward to cool the beverage, and heated air may rise upward to heat the food. In the illustrated embodiments, each of the thermal elements 44a, 44b includes PCM, as described herein. In other embodiments, each of the compartments 180a, 180b may include coupling mechanisms at both the top and bottom for allowing a user to selectively attach one or two thermal elements 44 thereto for heating and/or cooling purpose. Also, in other embodiments, the container may include more than two compartments 180.

In other embodiments, the compartments 180 in the container 12 do not need to have a side-by-side configuration. FIG. 10A illustrates an apparatus 10 with a container 12 that has compartments 180a, 180b in a stacked configuration. The container 12 also includes a divider 190 for separating the compartments 180a, 180b. In one method of use, the user may selectively place a cooled thermal element 44a at the top of the top compartment 180b for cooling item(s) therein, and may selectively place a heated thermal element 44b at the bottom of the lower compartment 180a for heating item(s) therein. Such configuration is desirable because as discussed, cooled air tends to fall downward, thereby allowing the item(s) in the top compartment 180b to be cooled more efficiently, and heated air tends to rise upward, thereby allowing item(s) in the lower compartment 180a to be heated more efficiently.

In other embodiments, the user may selectively place a cooled thermal element 44a at the top of the bottom compartment 180a for cooling item(s) therein, and may selectively place a heated thermal element 44b at the top of the top compartment 180b for heating item(s) therein (FIG. 10B).

It should be noted that the embodiments of the apparatus 10 described herein may take the form of different types of food storage system. For example, in some embodiments, the apparatus 10 may be a lunch bag, a pizza delivery bag, a mug, a cooler, etc. FIG. 11 illustrates a cup 200 coupled to a PCM module 202 in accordance with some embodiments. FIG. 12 illustrates a lunch box 210 coupled to a PCM module 212 in accordance with some embodiments. FIG. 13 illustrates a bottle 220 coupled to a PCM module 222 in accordance with some embodiments. Each of the PCM modules 202, 212, 222 may be considered a thermal element, and may be heated and/or cooled during use, as similarly discussed herein.

Although particular embodiments have been shown and described, it will be understood that they are not intended to limit the present inventions, and it will be obvious to those skilled in the art that various changes and modifications may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the present inventions. For example, in any of the embodiments described herein, the apparatus 10 does not need to include all of the thermal elements described, and may include a subset of the thermal elements described. For example, in some embodiments, the apparatus 10 may not include any top thermal element and bottom thermal element, and may include only side thermal element(s). Also, in other embodiments, the thermal element containing the PCM may have different configurations, e.g., sizes, shapes, composition, etc. The specification and drawings are, accordingly, to be regarded in an illustrative rather than restrictive sense. The present inventions are intended to cover alternatives, modifications, and equivalents, which may be included within the spirit and scope of the present inventions as defined by the claims.

Claims

1. An apparatus for containing one or more edible items, comprising:

a container having a base and a wall;
a first thermal element; and
a securing mechanism for removably securing the first thermal element relative to the container;
wherein the first thermal element comprises a housing that contains a phase-change material.

2. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the securing mechanism comprises a pocket for housing the first thermal element.

3. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the securing mechanism comprises a Velcro™.

4. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the securing mechanism comprises a button.

5. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the first thermal element is removably attachable to the base of the container.

6. The apparatus of claim 5, wherein the first thermal element is removably attachable to a bottom side of the base that is external to the container.

7. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the first thermal element is removably attachable to the wall of the container.

8. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising a cover for covering the container.

9. The apparatus of claim 8, wherein the first thermal element is removably attachable to the cover.

10. The apparatus of claim 9, wherein the first thermal element is removably attachable to a top side of the cover.

11. The apparatus of claim 8, further comprising a second thermal element configured to be removably secured relative to the container.

12. The apparatus of claim 11, wherein the first thermal element is configured to be removably attached to the base, and the second thermal element is configured to be removably attached to the cover.

13. The apparatus of claim 12, further comprising an indicator coupled to the container for instructing a user to selectively attach the first thermal element to the base or the cover.

14. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the first thermal element with the phase-change material is configured to be heated or cooled before it is removably secured relative to the container.

15. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the first thermal element is reusable.

16. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the phase-change material is selected from the group consisting of sodium acetate, Lauric acid, Trimethylolethane, Sodium silicate, salt hydrates, fatty acids, esters, paraffins, waxes, organic compounds, crystalline alkyl hydrocarbon, density polyethylene, ethylene-vinyl acetate, silica, and glycerine.

17. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the housing of the thermal element is flexible.

18. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the housing of the thermal element is rigid.

19. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the housing comprises silicone.

20. An apparatus for containing one or more edible items, comprising:

a container having a base and a wall;
a thermal element having a housing that contains a phase-change material, wherein the thermal element is selectively placeable at a first position and a second position;
a first securing mechanism for removably securing the thermal element relative to the container when the thermal element is at the first position; and
a second securing mechanism for removably securing the thermal element relative to the container when the thermal element is at the second position.

21. The apparatus of claim 20, wherein the phase-change material is selected from the group consisting of sodium acetate, Lauric acid, Trimethylolethane, Sodium silicate, salt hydrates, fatty acids, esters, paraffins, waxes, organic compounds, crystalline alkyl hydrocarbon, density polyethylene, ethylene-vinyl acetate, silica, and glycerine.

Patent History
Publication number: 20110259894
Type: Application
Filed: Apr 21, 2010
Publication Date: Oct 27, 2011
Inventor: Thomas Kwok Yin CHEUNG (Fremont, CA)
Application Number: 12/764,860