US 20030230110 A1
A portable cooling tray for cooling food materials. The cooling tray having a top surface defining a well into which one or more ice packs can be set. This well recessed so that that upper surface of the ice packs are level with the top surface of the cooling tray thereby forming a planar surface onto which the food materials or containers of food materials can be rested.
1. A cooling device for the presentation of a temperature sensitive item, said cooling device comprising:
a tray, said tray having top surface, said top surface receiving therein a chilled portion for absorbing heat, wherein said chilled portion provides a surface for holding said item.
2. The cooling device of
3. The cooling device of
4. The cooling device of
5. The cooling device of
6. A cooling device for the presentation of a container of food, said container having a base, said cooling device comprising:
a tray, said tray having a top surface, said top surface comprising a recess, said recess configured to receive an endothermic insert;
at least one cooling insert, said insert configured to be received into said recess, said insert for absorbing heat, said insert comprising an upper surface, wherein said container base is able to be placed upon said upper surface thereby cooling said container by conduction.
7. The cooling device of
8. The cooling device of
9. The cooling device of
10. A cooling device for the presentation of a container of food, said container having a base, said cooling device comprising:
a tray, said tray having a top surface, said top surface defining a recess, said recess having a bottom and two flanges extending from said bottom, said recess configured to receive a cooling insert therein, a condensation receptacle in said bottom for receiving condensation which condenses upon and drips from said cooling insert; and
at least one cooling insert, said insert configured to be received within said recess, said insert resting on said flanges, said insert for absorbing heat, said insert comprising an upper surface, wherein said container base can be placed upon said upper surface thereby cooling said container by conduction.
11. The cooling device of
 Field of the Invention
 The present invention generally relates to devices utilized to control temperature of an item, and more particularly relates to devices utilized to keep a fungible item to be sold or consumed within a desired temperature range.
 The refrigeration of food materials in particular is a great concern. Once food has been removed from refrigeration bacterial growth rates can quickly increase. As bacterial growth rates increase, soon the food becomes contaminated to the point where consumption of the food can be hazardous to a person's health, particularly to those having weakened immune systems (the sick, the young, the elderly, pregnant women, etc.).
 One solution has been to quickly return the containers of food to refrigeration. For instance, as soon as people have filled their plates, the containers of food could be quickly covered and placed in a refrigerator. Obviously, the additional time and effort involved with such a safety method are less than desirable, but necessary considering the harm. The reality is that many people, when faced with this time and effort investment, will opt for the dangerous convenience of ignoring the risk and not refrigerating the food containers.
 Another solution has been to provide a water bath into which a container of food can be floated or the provision of a container of crushed or cubed ice onto which the container of food would be placed. Many commercial institutions, such as buffet restaurants, frequently use such a food temperature control method. For instance, a salad bar might place all of the salad ingredients and toppings in containers and pack ice around the containers. The need for a supply of such ice cubes or crushed ice and the mess in dealing with melting ice make this solution less favored. These needs likewise make this option non-portable, bulky and oftentimes unsightly.
 What is needed is a method of controlling the temperature of food items, as well as any other item which is temperature sensitive, while such items are not being refrigerated. Such method being portable, non-bulky and attractive.
 Additional objects, advantages and novel features of the invention will be set forth in part in the description which follows and in part will become apparent to those skilled in the art upon examination of the following or may be learned by practice of the invention. The objects and advantages of the invention may be realized and attained by means of the instrumentalities and combinations particularly pointed out in the appended claims.
 The present invention is a cool tray designed to keep food and other fungible items cool while they are being displayed. The present invention keeps the items cool while allowing it to be presented nicely on a tabletop or other surface. While the present invention is discussed with reference to the cooling of food items, such discussion is not intended to be limiting, for the present invention (in alternative embodiments) could likewise be utilized, if appropriately provided with a heating or warming portion, for the heating of food or other materials.
 The present invention, in its simplest form, comprises a holder for at least one ice pack. This holder holding the ice pack in a manner that an item to be cooled or refrigerated could be placed on top of the device, thereby cooling the item through conduction of heat out of the item and into the ice pack.
 The preferred ice pack is filled with standard reusable ice pack medium, such as the common mixture of water, propylene glycol (or some other antifreeze), cellulose (or some other thickener) and food coloring (optional). Other types and formulations of reusable ice pack mediums are also envisioned. Being filled with such a chemical mixture, it is preferred that the ice packs be sealed at the factory, unable to be opened by the user thereby preventing the ice pack from being opened by the user, leaking onto the item to be cooled or leaking onto the surface that the tray or holder is utilized on. Being reusable, a user would need to place the ice pack in a freezer (or refrigerator) for a quantity of time to chill the ice pack. Upon chilling, the ice pack could then be retrieved and utilized with the invented tray.
 In a less preferred embodiment of the present invention, the ice pack used with the present invention comprises a plastic molded bottle having a screw on lid. This bottle able to be partially filled with a liquid or gel, for instance water, which is able to be cooled and/or frozen in a standard household refrigerator/freezer. Thus, a user can retrieve such a cooled or frozen ice pack from the refrigerator/freezer, place the ice pack in the tray, and use the tray as a cooled display platform for the item or container wished to be cooled. Other types of ice packs are also envisioned.
 There are many uses of such a device. For instance, a buffet line could use the present invention to keep sour cream and other dairy products from spoiling. Or an individual could keep the temperature of their hors d'oeuveres, appetizers, sushi, salad, potato salad, Jell-O® salad or any other fungible item within a desired temperature range while attractively displaying such items.
 Still other objects and advantages of the present invention will become readily apparent to those skilled in this art from the following detailed description wherein we have shown and described only the preferred embodiment of the invention, simply by way of illustration of the best mode contemplated by carrying out my invention. As will be realized, the invention is capable of modification in various obvious respects all without departing from the invention. Accordingly, the drawings and description of the preferred embodiment are to be regarded as illustrative in nature, and not as restrictive.
FIG. 1 is a perspective view of the preferred tray of the present invention.
FIG. 2 is a perspective view of the preferred embodiment of the present invention showing the preferred tray and the preferred ice packs installed therein.
FIG. 3 is a partially exploded, perspective view of the embodiment of FIG. 2.
FIG. 4 is a longitudinal cross sectional view of the embodiment of FIG. 2.
FIG. 5 is a lateral cross sectional view of the embodiment of FIG. 2.
 While the invention is susceptible of various modifications and alternative constructions, certain illustrated embodiments thereof have been shown in the drawings and will be described below in detail. It should be understood, however, that there is no intention to limit the invention to the specific form disclosed, but, on the contrary, the invention is to cover all modifications, alternative constructions, and equivalents falling within the spirit and scope of the invention as defined in the claims.
 Referring initially to FIG. 1, shown is the preferred embodiment of a tray 20 utilized with the present invention. This embodiment of the tray is further utilized in FIGS. 2-5. This tray 20 having a frame or body 22 having a top 34 opposite a bottom or base 36, as shown in FIGS. 4-5. This top 34 having an upper surface 35 having defined therein a well or recess 26. This well 26 having a bottom 28 and preferably at least one well ridge 32, 33. This ridge 33 (32) for supporting an ice pack or other cooling device held therein said well 26. These ridges particularly shown in FIG. 5.
 Insulation of the ice packs from contacting the bottom 36 may be facilitated through use of such ridges 32, 33 defined in or extending from the bottom surface 28 of the well as shown. This ridge or ridges configured to elevate the ice pack above the surface of the bottom of the well, thereby presenting a cushion of air between the ice pack and the well bottom surface. Preferably, the present invention is likewise configured so that the walls of the well are likewise spaced from the side, top and bottom walls of the ice pack. Optionally, such spacers or ridges could be provided as appendages of the ice pack itself.
 The tray 20 preferably has a plurality of feet 30 extending from said body 22 at said base 36. These feet for contacting the surface upon which the present invention is utilized. It is preferred that the tray of the present invention be configured with a number of rubber or other material feet covers designed to inhibit or reduce the slippage of the present invention upon the surface it is used upon. Such feet covers furthermore would reduce the chance the preferred tray's feet would damage or scratch the surface the present invention is utilized upon.
 The body 22 having a first end 38 opposite a second end 40 and a first side 42 opposite a second side 44. While the embodiment shown utilizes a generally curved rectangular shaped tray having a generally rectangular recess, other shapes of trays and wells or recesses are expressly envisioned.
 Referring now particularly to FIG. 2, shown is the preferred embodiment of the present invention. The invented cooling tray device 10 comprises a tray 20 configured for receipt of at least one ice pack 66, 68, 70. In the embodiment shown, the number of ice packs is three. This tray 20 having an upper surface 35 or surfaces. The ice pack or packs 66, 68, 70 further each having top surface 72, 72′, 72″. These top surfaces 35, 72, 72′, 72″ defining a surface upon which a material to be cooled can be rested and displayed.
 It is preferred that the upper surface(s) 35 of the tray 20 be generally level with or gently sloping away from the level of the top surfaces 72, 72′, 72″ so that the surface upon which the material to be cooled is greater, thereby making the display more stable. In other embodiments, the top surface(s) of the ice pack(s) could themselves serve as the entire cooling surface. In other embodiments, a material for facilitating the transfer of heat between the ice packs and the material cooled could be present, for instance a conductive pad.
 Referring now specifically to FIG. 3, shown is an exploded view of FIG. 2, showing one of the ice packs 68 separated and removed from the well 26 from the tray 20. In this view the ridge 33 can be seen. A corresponding and opposing ridge 32 exists, as can be seen in FIG. 5. These ridges 32, 33 serve as supports for the bottoms of the ice packs to rest upon. Being supported as such, a pocket 60 of air (insulation) is defined and thus provided between the bottom sides of the ice packs and the bottom 28 of the base 22. This pocket of air can be seen in FIG. 5.
 Referring now specifically to FIG. 4, a partial, cross-sectional view of FIG. 2 is shown. The device 10 having a tray frame 22 having a well or recess 26 into which three ice packs 66, 68, 70 are placed. One of these ice packs 70 itself is shown. In this embodiment, the top surfaces 72, 72′, 72″ of the ice packs 66, 68, 70 are adjacent the upper surface 35 of the tray frame 22, being slightly recessed into the tray. However it is also expressly envisioned that the ice packs may having top surfaces level with the upper surface of the tray or may even have top surfaces which extend out of the tray, above the upper surface.
 Referring now to FIG. 5, shown is a partial, cross-sectional view of the embodiment of FIG. 2. This figure showing the device 10 having a tray body 22 having a well therein for receiving a ice pack 70. This ice pack having a top surface 72″ which is preferably adjacent the upper surface 35 of the tray body. In the embodiment shown, the tray bottom 28 generally slopes towards the center of the tray, thereby defining an enlarged pocket 60. This enlarged pocket 60 is able to receive therein atmospheric air as well as receive therein water vapor which condenses upon the ice pack and drips off said ice pack. This feature allows the device 10 to collect its own moisture, retaining it for later disposal by the user, thereby protecting the surface upon which the present invention is utilized from water damage commonly associated with condensation upon a cool or cold surface, for instance the water rings that form on wood tables when a cold drink is placed thereupon.
 In a less preferred embodiment the tray bottom would be generally flat. In the preferred embodiment, the well is preferably solid, not having holes through its bottom. In such a manner if condensation forms on one or more of the ice packs, this condensation will be able to drip into the well and not leak onto the surface supporting the present invention. However, other embodiments are also envisioned which may have holes therethrough the bottom or sides of the well and/or tray.
 In the figures, various views of the preferred embodiment of the tray of the cool tray device 10 are shown. The tray has a frame or body 22, having defined therein a well or recess 26 for receiving the cooling portion of the present invention. The well 26 has a well bottom 28. Located within the well or recess are preferably one or more ridges 32, 33 for supporting the cooling portion of the present invention off the well bottom 28. These ridges can comprise the elongated portions as shown or may comprise any means of holding the ice pack up off the well bottom 28, including but not limited to the flanges, tangs, bumps, notches, knobs, etc. The frame 22 having a top 34. The frame 22 also having a first end 38 extending to a second end 40, as well as a first side 42 extending to a second side 44. Extending from this frame 22 is a bottom or base 36. This base has preferably a plurality of feet 34 for contacting a surface.
 The figures also show the preferred embodiment of the ice pack 68 (66, 70) of the present invention. This ice pack 68 has a top surface 72 and a bottom surface 76. The ice pack further has a first end 78 extending to a second end 80, defined within the first end is preferably the sealed orifice 74 into which the factory filled the ice pack. Alternatively, this first end could comprise a screw on or otherwise attached lid for allowing the ice pack to be opened. The ice pack 70 has a first side 82 opposite a second side 84. The preferred ice packs may have groves and/or ridges on their top surfaces or they may be smooth.
 The invented ice packs are configured for use with the invented tray. In such a manner, as shown in the figures, three of the invented ice packs are able to rest side by side within the well of the tray. More or less, bigger or smaller ice packs may be present. While the term “ice pack” is utilized to describe the preferred embodiment of a cooling portion of the tray, namely a bottle filled with frozen water and hence “ice,” it is expressly envisioned that other materials and means of cooling may also or alternatively be provided.
 In a less preferred embodiment, the invented ice packs may be sold empty, having screw-on/screw-off or otherwise detachable lids. In such a manner, weight and thus shipping costs are reduced. Likewise, users of the present invention are free to fill whatever liquid into the ice packs they wish. While the utilization of water would be preferred, a particular user may which to fill the ice packs with fruit juice or some other liquid. By using a potable fluid, the fluid in the ice packs can be consumed after they melt. In yet other embodiments of the present invention (some of which were discussed supra), the ice packs may come sealed from the factory, containing a chemical compound, formulation or other material designed to stay cool longer than water.
 It is preferred that the ice packs, while providing a cooling surface, be configured with at least one retrieval portion, finger hole, or other manner of allowing for their easy retrieval from the tray while in use so that a user does not have to turn the tray upside down in order to remove the ice packs from the tray.
 The main body or tray of the present invention is preferably made from an injection molded acrylic material; however other methods of manufacture and materials are also envisioned. The ice packs are likewise preferably molded from a molded plastic material; however other materials and methods of manufacture are also envisioned.
 The well of the tray, being preferably comprised of a plastic material will therefore have some insulating properties. It is envisioned that other insulating materials may be applied within the well or to the outer surface of the ice packs so as to make the present invention more efficient.
 The aforementioned discussion primarily was concerned with the configuration of the present invention for cooling. However, it is expressly envisioned that the present invention could likewise be utilized for heating, with the ice packs of the present invention being filled not with frozen water or some other cool liquid/gel/solid, but with a liquid/gel/solid which is hot or warm.
 While there is shown and described the present preferred embodiment of the invention, it is to be distinctly understood that this invention is not limited thereto but may be variously embodied to practice within the scope of the following claims. From the foregoing description, it will be apparent that various changes may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention as defined by the following claims.