US 20030127350 A1
A container for storing herbs and other leafy produce includes a base cup, center tube, and cap. Optionally, the container may also include internal separators or spikes. Herbs are stored in the container so that the stem can remain in water but the leafy portion remains upward, out of water.
1. A method for storing produce having a leaf and a stem, comprising:
placing the produce inside a substantially rigid container having a base and upwardly extending walls such that the stem is adjacent the base; and
securing a lid to the container.
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9. A container for storing produce having a leaf and a stem, comprising:
a base cup having a base and upwardly extending sidewalls;
a center tube removably attached to the base cup; and
a lid removably attached to the center tube.
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 This invention claims priority from provisional application No. 60/347,274, filed Jan. 9, 2002.
 This invention relates to storage containers, particularly including containers for storing fresh herbs and certain vegetables.
 Many people cook with fresh herbs, and recipes often call for fresh herbs as ingredients. Many fresh herbs are very expensive and are often purchased in a pre-packed quantity. The pre-packed quantity of herbs is usually more than is needed in a recipe, leaving leftover herbs that require storage.
 Typically, fresh herbs are stored in the plastic bag or thin plastic container that they are purchased in. This is problematic because the leaves often sit in pools of water or condensation, causing them to decompose and rendering them unfit for consumption. The thin poly-bags are also not air-tight, exposing the herbs to ethylene gas from other fruits and vegetables. As with condensation, ethylene gas causes the herbs to age and decompose at a faster rate.
 There is nothing on the market that is capable of keeping all types of fresh herbs fresh for extended periods by protecting them from condensation, air, ethylene gas, and other harmful refrigerator odors. The few devices presently used have many shortcomings. For example, there is an item called the “parsley bag” that is a double-walled cotton cloth bag designed to store parsley and other herbs. The bag is moistened with water, the herbs are placed inside, and the bag is closed with a drawstring. This bag does not protect the herbs from refrigerator odors or from harmful gases. The bag is also crushable, so that if it is not given adequate space in the refrigerator, the herbs inside will be damaged or rot quickly due to lack of air space.
 Accordingly, there is a need for a product that can hold herbs upright, keeping the leaves away from water, while sealing out refrigerator odors and gases that accelerate the aging of the herbs. Preferably, such a device should be convenient to store in the refrigerator or on a countertop, and able to store multiple types of herbs and certain vegetables at the same time.
FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a preferred container in accordance with the present invention; and
FIG. 2 is a perspective view of a preferred container having an internal herb separator in accordance with the present invention.
 The present invention is a container for storing fresh herbs and certain vegetables to retain freshness for extended periods. Though it is sometimes referred to as an herb keeper because it is best suited for storing herbs, it is also capable of storing certain vegetables and other perishables, particularly including leafy vegetables. Within this specification, herbs and other leafy vegetables capable of storage in the container are generally referred to as produce. Likewise, most herbs and leafy vegetables will have a section that is generally “leafy” and a section that is essentially a “stem.” The stem is defined as the portion of the herb or leafy vegetable that was attached to the stalk, while the leafy portion extends away from the stem.
 With reference to FIG. 1, the container 10 consists of three main parts: a cap 40, center tube 20 and base cup 30. Preferably, the center tube 20 and base cup 30 are made of clear acrylic and the cap is made of a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE). Any of the components may alternatively be formed of other materials, although it is preferable to form them from clear materials so that the types of herbs that are stored remain visible.
 The base cup 30 is a relatively shallow, substantially cylindrical cup having a flat, circular base 32 and generally vertical walls. The walls may also be inclined somewhat, so that they extend radially outwardly as they extend away from the base. The base cup includes a marking 50 on the outside to indicate the level of water that should be added to the base cup 30 to keep the stored herbs fresh. The base cup 30 holds the herbs upright, with the lower section of the herb stems 62 submerged in the water and the herb leaves 61 out of the water, as with a vase of cut flowers.
 The center tube 20 threads onto the base cup 30, although it may alternatively be friction, snap, or otherwise joined to the base cup 30. The center tube 20 is therefore removably attached to the base cup to make it easier to add or remove herbs. The center tube 20 holds the herb leaves or branches upright to allow adequate air circulation and to keep them out of water. Preferably, the axial length of the center tube is greater than its diameter to produce a generally elongated shape that will hold herbs upright.
 While the preferred embodiment includes a two-piece center tube and base cup arrangement, the invention may also be produced by constructing these components as a single integrated unit. One of the advantages of the two-piece construction is that by adding the herbs and water to the base unit before attaching the center tube, it helps to ensure that the water level remains low, below the leafy portion of the herbs.
 The removable cap 40 is frictionally attached to the center tube 20. The relatively snug fit between the cap 40 and the center tube 20 produces a substantially airtight seal. Consequently, the herbs are protected from refrigerator odors and damaging ethylene gas produced by many fruits and vegetables. The cap 40 can be opened to insert or remove herbs.
 Although the cap 40 is preferably friction-fitted to the center tube 20, it can alternatively be removably attached via mated threads between the cap 40 and the center tube 20, a snap-fit (e.g., annular, mating ridges), or any other means that will retain the cap 40 and substantially seal the container.
 Preferably, the container 10 is made from clear materials so that the herbs that are stored inside are visible and readily identifiable. Other materials may also be used, however, such as glass, ceramic, stainless steel, or polyethylene.
 As illustrated in FIG. 2, the container 10 optionally includes an internal divider insert 70 to separate herbs or bunches of herbs and further assist in keeping them upright. The insert 70 comprises two vertical wall sections 72, 74, each of which bisects the base cup vertically. The wall sections 72, 74 are also orthogonal to one another, thereby dividing the base cup into four quadrants. The divider insert 70 preferably is formed from the same material as the center tube 20 and is about the same height as the base cup 30. Preferably, the insert is removable, although it may be permanently affixed or integrally molded with the base cup 30 or center tube 20.
 In alternate forms, the divider insert may extend a much shorter distance, or may take the form of bars extending radially across the center tube 20, so long as the insert is capable of keeping the stored herbs separated. Likewise, the internal insert may either stop short of the bottom of the base cup 30 or include openings in the portion of the insert that is at the bottom of the base cup so that water in the base cup 30 will be shared across the separate sections. The insert allows the container to be divided into any number of internal sections.
 In yet another embodiment, the container includes a plurality of spikes extending upward from the base cup toward or into the center tube. The spikes provide support for the herbs to keep them generally upright during storage.
 In another alternative embodiment, the container is expandable in height. The height adjustment is preferably accomplished via an overlapping sliding friction fit between the base cup 30 and the center tube 20. By sliding the center tube 20 up or down with respect to the base cup 30, the container becomes taller or shorter.
 The herb keeper of the present invention keeps herbs fresher longer than existing devices, and is capable of holding multiple types of herbs at the same time. It can easily be used in the refrigerator or on a countertop. The preferred size and shape will fit in typical refrigerator doors. Though it is best suited for herbs, it is also ideal for storing certain vegetables such as spinach and asparagus.
 The air-tight seal keeps delicate herbs away from ethylene gas released by fruits and vegetables that are typically stored in a refrigerator. When constructed from the preferred clear acrylic material, it allows the contents to be identified without opening the container.
 While the preferred embodiment of the invention has been illustrated and described, as noted above, many changes can be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. Accordingly, the scope of the invention is not limited by the disclosure of the preferred embodiment.