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United States Patent Application 20180037392
Kind Code A1
SCHWALB; Yaron ;   et al. February 8, 2018

METHOD AND SYSTEM FOR PROCESSING AND/OR FLAVOURING FOODSTUFFS

Abstract

The present invention relates to the field of processing and/or flavouring foodstuffs. In one aspect of invention there are methods and/or devices related to foodstuff suitable for popping, such as kernels, as well as flavouring foodstuffs. In another aspect of invention there is provided a method of and/or device for providing flavouring into a sealed container, comprising providing a container, providing a pod having flavouring therein, attaching the pod to the container, and using the pod to deliver the flavouring into the container. In yet another aspect, there is provided a pod adapted to provide flavouring to foodstuff and/or a method therefor, comprising a housing adapted to holding at least one flavouring, a piercing element, provided within the pod, an attachment mechanism for attaching the pod to a bag or container, and a frangible surface operative in use with the piercing element.


Inventors: SCHWALB; Yaron; (Southbank, AU) ; TRAN; Van Nguyen; (Southbank, AU)
Applicant:
Name City State Country Type

LUMINUTTY PTY LTD.

Southbank

AU
Family ID: 1000002939892
Appl. No.: 15/544009
Filed: November 26, 2015
PCT Filed: November 26, 2015
PCT NO: PCT/AU2015/000717
371 Date: July 16, 2017


Current U.S. Class: 1/1
Current CPC Class: B65D 81/32 20130101; B65D 77/24 20130101; B65D 83/06 20130101; B65D 51/2807 20130101; B65D 1/32 20130101; B65D 25/42 20130101; A23L 27/70 20160801; A23L 27/88 20160801
International Class: B65D 81/32 20060101 B65D081/32; B65D 83/06 20060101 B65D083/06; B65D 51/28 20060101 B65D051/28; B65D 77/24 20060101 B65D077/24

Foreign Application Data

DateCodeApplication Number
Jan 20, 2015AU2015900147
Feb 9, 2015AU2015900394

Claims



1. A method of providing flavouring into a sealed container, the method comprising the steps of: providing a container; providing a pod attached to a container by adhesive, said pod having flavouring therein; and using the pod to deliver the flavouring into the container.

2. A method as claimed in claim 1, wherein the pod includes a piercing element which is used to pierce the container and provide access to the flavouring into the container.

3. (canceled)

4. (canceled)

5. A method as claimed in claim 1, wherein the step of delivering the flavouring into the container is done without exposing the flavouring to outside atmosphere.

6. (canceled)

7. (canceled)

8. (canceled)

9. (canceled)

10. (canceled)

11. (canceled)

12. (canceled)

13. A pod adapted to provide flavouring to foodstuff, the pod comprising: a housing adapted to holding at least one flavouring a piercing element, provided within the pod an attachment mechanism for attaching the pod to a bag or container, and a frangible surface operative in use with the piercing element.

14. A pod as claimed in claim 13, wherein the housing is collapsible when pressure is applied to the pod.

15. A pod as claimed in claim 13, wherein the attachment mechanism is adhesive or a POD interface.

16. A pod as claimed in claim 13, wherein a plurality of flavourings is provided in the pod.

17. A pod as claimed in claim 13, further comprising a capsule and/or another item or product in the POD.

18. A pod as claimed in claim 13, further comprising a peel off label associated with the frangible surface and/or attachment to a container

19. A pod as claimed in claim 13, wherein the POD is adapted to heat its content by microwave energy or other suitable heat source.

20. (canceled)

21. (canceled)

22. (canceled)

23. (canceled)

24. (canceled)

25. (canceled)

26. (canceled)

27. (canceled)

28. (canceled)

29. (canceled)

30. (canceled)

31. (canceled)

32. (canceled)

33. (canceled)

34. (canceled)

35. (canceled)

36. (canceled)

37. A pod adapted to provide flavouring to foodstuff in association with a popcorn machine, the pod comprising: a housing adapted to holding at least one flavouring an attachment mechanism for attaching the pod to the machine, and an openable surface adapted to enable flavour to exit the pod.

38. A pod as claimed in claim 37, wherein the housing is substantially cylindrical in shape.

39. (canceled)

40. A pod as claimed in claim 37, wherein the openable surface is a frangible surface or a peel off label.

41. (canceled)

42. (canceled)

43. (canceled)

44. (canceled)

45. (canceled)

46. (canceled)

47. (canceled)
Description



FIELD OF INVENTION

[0001] The present invention relates to the field of processing and/or flavouring foodstuffs.

[0002] In one form, the invention relates to methods and/or devices related to foodstuff suitable for popping, as well as for storing and/or popping kernel(s) and flavouring foodstuffs, including, but not limited to popped kernels. The present invention and various aspects of invention, nonetheless have application to many different types of foodstuffs.

[0003] In one particular aspect the present invention is suitable for use in what is commonly referred to as a popcorn maker.

[0004] It will be convenient to hereinafter describe the invention in relation to a popcorn maker however it should be appreciated that the present invention is not limited to that use only.

BACKGROUND ART

[0005] Throughout this specification the use of the word "inventor" in singular form may be taken as reference to one (singular) inventor or more than one (plural) inventor of the present invention.

[0006] It is to be appreciated that any discussion of documents, devices, acts or knowledge in this specification is included to explain the context of the present invention. Further, the discussion throughout this specification comes about due to the realisation of the inventor and/or the identification of certain related art problems by the inventor. Moreover, any discussion of material such as documents, devices, acts or knowledge in this specification is included to explain the context of the invention in terms of the inventor's knowledge and experience and, accordingly, any such discussion should not be taken as an admission that any of the material forms part of the prior art base or the common general knowledge in the relevant art in Australia, or elsewhere, on or before the priority date of the disclosure and claims herein.

Popcorn Maker

[0007] The inventors have realised that delivering pre-popped popcorn is undesirable, inasmuch as: [0008] 1. Popped popcorn expands by approximately 40.times. compared to kernel size and thus is considered expensive to ship in an expanded form [0009] 2. Many forms of popped popcorn have shapes (e.g. `butterfly popcorn`) which are easily damaged in transportation (common to find large number of `debris` at the bottom of the packet`) [0010] 3. Quality starts deteriorating as soon as popcorn is popped, [0011] 4. Popped corn consumes a large shelf space which is at a premium cost for shops, [0012] 5. There are limits to the range of flavours and serving sizes able to be offered.

[0013] Producing popcorn `onsite`, while preferred, has been limited to a large extent to popcorn speciality shops, movie theatres and vending units. There are a range of difficulties for generalized retail premises (e.g. coffee shops, take-away shops, etc.) to provide `on-site` popcorn production, including issues such as highly variable demand, space & power requirements, amount of labour involved (e.g. cleaning oil), for example.

[0014] While specialized locations are able to able to overcome these issues through relatively high volume they are not, as a general rule, able to offer an `on-demand` service which produces fresh popcorn, on a `per customer` basis. As demand increases for `healthier choices`, as evident by packaged `diet popcorn` and `fat reduced` popcorn, as well as greater variety, as evident by the ever increasing range of specialized packaged popcorn flavouring (including alcoholic versions), these premises would find it ever more difficult to satisfy customer expectations/demands. Their current, high volume, solutions typically use an oil base and require pre-popping in a `batch` format rather than `on-demand, per customer", affecting the quality and consistency of the product.

[0015] Thus, in a `customer facing` establishment, where the offer of `fresh` popcorn to customers is made, and as part of an extensive range of other offerings, it is important that the popcorn device and method used is: [0016] 1. Relatively small enough to be accommodated by such establishments typically a counter top solution of similar size to a coffee machine or other appliances with the environment. Working space is limited and therefore expensive in such establishments. A smaller form factor is also beneficial in business offering self-serve station by enabling multiple serving stations. [0017] 2. Able to accommodate a highly variable customer demand with an ability to service large number of customers at peak demand time: [1] the time necessary to produce a customer order must be as minimal as possible and no longer then other typical offering within those establishments; [2] be able to shift from one customer order to the next relatively quickly; and [3] minimize operator time, ie quick `single customer serve` production and quick transition to next customer. [0018] 3. It is desirable that it be able to accommodate different size orders so as to improve customer experience, profits, volume produce per period of time, etc., ie provide similar offering as to speciality locations which pre-produce large quantities and offer different sizes of servings. [0019] 4. Provide consistent, quality outcome for example, manage kernel variability (e.g.

[0020] moisture content may vary due to longer storage time), reduce or eliminate (highly desirable) un-popped kernels [e.g. issues for smaller kids and teeth], ensure that kernels are not overcooked, that popped kernels are relatively consistent, and that the nutritional benefits are relatively maximised [e.g. maintaining original nutritional value, reducing or eliminating oil, etc]. These are considered important for the reputation of the venue, for customer satisfaction and/or for marketing/competitive advantage. Being able to provide consistent outcome with relatively no staff/operator involvement is important to non-specialized shops. [0021] 5. Provide the ability to offer a wide and flexible range of flavouring on a per serving basis. Customer demands with regards to popcorn flavouring have undergone significant change in the last decade as evident by the variety of flavours and segmentation now found in pre-packaged popcorns. Diet/`Lite`, spicy, health and even alcoholic flavoured are just some examples. [0022] 6. Be economical to run, both in terms of energy, ongoing maintenance (e.g. cleaning), waste elimination, reliability and simplicity of operation. For example, eliminating or reducing oil reduces waste and reduces cleaning requirements. Ideally operation using a standard 10 amp power plug. (Popping popcorn typically requires significant energy which in a consumer facing establishments has `hidden costs`, e.g. air-conditioning costs and the noise level associated with cooling the equipment). [0023] 7. An important aspect relating to both `economical to run` as well as the choice of offering is the ability of the shop to offer whatever packaging if feels best suits is own and its customer's requirements. This means that the shop should be able to use existing packaging, existing suppliers and/or also innovate with packaging through their existing relationships. For example, some might prefer eco-friendly packaging. [0024] 8. Ideally flexible enough to accommodate different business models, e.g. customer self-serve (similar to soft drink pour or top up at fast food outlets). [0025] 9. Ability to use different varieties of foodstuffs, such as, but not limited to corn kernels to provide further benefits to the consumer. For example, there are a large number of popcorn kernels varieties which are only available for domestic popping and which provide difference size, flavour, texture from the commonly available varieties offered today in large scale venues, such as cinemas.

[0026] Current solutions fail to address many of the features desirable for domestic offerings (e.g. size, consistency, low power, limited handling and cleaning, freshness).

[0027] The inventors have realised that there exists a number of ways of producing popcorn, and these approaches can be summarised as follows: [0028] In order to pop popcorn kernels it is necessary to heat the moisture inside the kernel so it turns to steam reaching sufficient temperature and pressure so as both to `liquefy` part of the starch in the kernel and rip open the pericarp of the kernels so as to push the starch outwards. [0029] There are various ways to heat up the kernels, however, essentially they fall into three types: heat by conduction (through the pericarp), radiation (typically microwave) which effects that moisture directly and a combination of the two (e.g. `popcorn pre-packaged` solution typically used in domestic of some vending units). [0030] The first (heat by conduction) takes such form as hot air, hot oil, and so on. [0031] The latter (microwave) is typically based on electromagnetic waves (typically microwave of a frequency which is optimal for water (and regulation) (commonly 2.45 Ghz)) with the combination version occurring due to inefficiency of typical microwave oven (as wells as heating the butter) using, for example, a metal strip to covert some of the microwave energy to thermal energy (as commonly found in microwave popcorn bags used for domestic use). [0032] Thermal transfer via external heating of the pericarp is considered highly inefficient, and results in slow popping time as the heat needs to penetrate to the internal layers and to where it is needed and exposes the biological material to longer cooking time and heat. It should be noted that any attempts to compensate for the speed of popping by increasing external (cooking) temperature are considered impractical and/or counterproductive for a variety of reasons for example, resulting in outer layer of the kernels reaching high pressures and rapturing the hull before the starch deeper in the kernels can fully gelatinize (causing partial popping), burning the pericarp, large energy use, etc. [0033] Microwave radiation should be more efficient as it penetrates the pericarp to heat the water molecules [and through them their part of the starch most relevant to the expansion/popping]; however, it is highly dependent on the microwave device design. Standard microwave oven design (e.g. used in domestic setting, some vending units, etc) is extremely inefficient. This is clearly evident from the time take to pop (or even just comparing boiling a cup of water on gas stove vs. microwave oven). Popcorn poses unique challenge to microwave solutions as its extreme expansion ratio (which also results in a bounce that can be approx. 13 cm) means that microwave chamber needed to accommodate the expansion needs to be large which results in inefficiencies, difficulties with reflections, overheating, etc. [Note in large manufacturing system may experience different issues as they can address the chamber issues by open conveyors, single layers, etc.]. [0034] The thermal transfer by conduction and microwave solutions are used in different segments of the `popcorn market` from large production facilities which use, for example, hot air machine and microwave machines, to volume customer facing environments (e.g. movie theatres) where typically convection is only used (hot oil typically), to vending machine (mostly thermal and some microwave) to domestic units which are typically oil based, hot air, or domestic microwave using pre-packaged corns. [0035] Since the focus of the solution is on `customer portion freshly [on the spot] made popcorn`, there is no need to discuss such areas as large production facilities (their design is also significantly different, e.g. conveyor/single layering design, large drums, etc.). [0036] It is important to understand the nature of `time to serve` customer--the time required to provide fresh popcorn to multiple customers is a function of the time to pop the popcorn, the time required for successive `single` servings to be produced (e.g. if need to `load/remove/reload` in a closed container) and that the quantity which can be produced. Typically freshly made, single serve, popcorn using thermal conductivity (or even standard microwave oven approach) requires a significant amount of time to pop. It is no uncommon for the popping to take 1.5 to 3 minutes (e.g. standard microwave oven packs require approx. 3 minutes). Such length of time is considered impractical for customer facing business for example, servicing 10 customers would require a 15 to 30 minutes delay by the time the last customer is served (not including other operations). [0037] Another area of importance is how energy is transferred. Oil based conduction creates a range of issues, such as cleaning, minimum quantity being produced, nutritional issues, etc. They are not considered very suitable for single serve add-hoc demand.

[0038] The inventors have realised that there exists a number of products available for producing popcorn, and these can be summarised as follows: [0039] Hot air poppers--they use loose kernels, kernels vacate the chamber when popping, moisture is not trapped in and do not require oil. While they offer an open chamber design, these units suffer from a very long popping time due to the nature of the thermal transfer to the water molecules being inefficient (conductivity), high energy use, require continuous steering of chamber (also noisy) to ensure heat is dispersed between the kernels, do not provide for an automatic free-flow production and are limited in serving sizes. Their popping performance alone is considered to make them unsuitable for use in high volume area. [0040] Packet based (where the loose corn kernels are pre-packaged with flavouring and subjected electromagnetic waves, e.g. microwave), these are typically used in vending machines or home (single packets). Many system use domestic microwave incorporated into a vending system (this result in a wait time of approx. 3 minutes (based on packet size), not practical for shops). The need for the popping chamber to accommodate the packet with fully popped popcorn means that the approach is highly inefficient with regards to energy use, the dispersion of waves is not well controlled--ie both slow time and inefficient. The moisture is trapped in the bag and kernels that are popped are continued to be subjected to radiation, all of which affects the quality of outcome (e.g. overcooking or even burnt popcorn). The system requires a large chamber due to the size packet and if automation is required it is extremely large and expensive (managing the movement of the bags, securing the chamber, etc. Packets require a metal sheet to convert some of the waves to heat. [0041] Cup based individual serving placed in a microwave chamber in which pre-packaged kernels are provided inside the cup. This approach is deficient in several ways, the chamber has to be large enough to accommodate the popped kernels, the popped kernels are maintained in the popping chamber and thus are subject to ongoing radiation effecting quality of the product (and nutritional aspects), e.g. overcooking or burning of some, or failure to pop many kernels (as it is a closed unit it has to rely on a time based cycle and given the inconsistency in the kernels the outcomes would vary); the moisture is allowed to escape, however, given the retention of the popped kernels in the unit this is less effective, the close chamber design results in resonance which incorporate a random element into the process. Being a closed chamber, it requires manual operation and significantly lower throughput, servicing size is limit to the cup and the use of specific cups requires more space, costs and is less flexible.

Flavouring

[0042] A greater range of popcorn flavouring (due to many different suppliers offering unique (own) flavours is another aspect that is becoming more associated with customer demand and popcorn consumption. This demand for large increase in the different flavouring of popcorn available to the consumer is, for the most part, either provided with pre-popped (typically bag) solutions or by speciality popcorn shops (manually intensive, time consuming, expensive, volume) due economics and practicality. With regards to flavouring at the point of popping it is either integrated into the bag (e.g. part of microwave packet), is a separate bag with seasoning in side the popcorn packet, or has a packet or delivery funnel which is added into an open container. The offerings are considered not suitable as (1) in the case of pre-popped it is impractical (economics basis; space required, etc) at the point of purchase, (2) it is impractical for non-speciality shops to produce their own (and again even they are restricted by economic constraints on the range and these have to be pre-popped), and (3) separate bag or funnel approaches are largely impractical as they are very messy, hard to ensure good distribution of flavouring and so on.

[0043] Prior art flavouring is also limited to a predetermined selection and/or amount. This limits a customer's ability to flavour foodstuff product to their liking. Prior art devices usually also require cleaning between the adding of flavour to batches of foodstuffs to avoid cross contamination between batches of foodstuffs.

Dispenser Unit

[0044] Some prior art popcorn makers also have an attached kernel storage-feeder unit. The storage/feeder unit may be a `hopper` style of design which stores the kernels and supplies them automatically to the cooking chamber in a continuous manner. This is considered unsuitable if a relatively small quantity of popcorn is required to be cooked and sold in store.

[0045] In the case of the hopper the kernels are poured into the hopper. They are now exposed to the ambient conditions. Further exhibiting the problem is that popcorn machines require significant heat to pop the kernels. Thus, the kernels are exposed to higher temperature and uncontrolled humidity, all which reduce their storage life (a problem for add-hoc production) effecting their quality over time. Another issue is the need to clean the hopper (various biological debris for the stored kernels, moisture and so on require (food hygiene requirements) making higher maintenance and less functional for the smaller, non specialized establishments. Furthermore, the hopper requires extra work/diligence (and space to allow this work to be performed) in ensuring the kernels are transferred from storage bag (or other container) to the hopper.

POD

[0046] There is also a need for providing flavouring in conjunction with a microwave popcorn maker designed to address the single serving size requirement as a post-popping (post production). Providing flavouring automatically from the popcorn maker is also desirable. There is also a need for providing a large number of flavours concurrently and ensuring good distribution (homogeneity), in-line with the popping process and delivering personalized flavouring to the end consumer. It would also be desirable to accommodate a variety of flavouring, e.g. powder and liquid.

[0047] Current satchels, dispensers, etc. require placing flavours on top and then finding a way to mix it with no mess (or special mixing bowls). Homogeneity is compounded with multiple flavours (additives) and is difficult if the requirements include liquid type substance (e.g. olive oil) as the dry and wet flavours will clump together and/or the popcorn at the top will tend to soak most of the oil (even if oil on its own).

SUMMARY OF INVENTION

[0048] It is an object of the embodiments described herein to overcome or alleviate at least one of the above noted drawbacks of related art systems or to at least provide a useful alternative to related art systems.

[0049] In a first aspect of embodiments described herein there is provided a method for and/or a device for energising foodstuff, comprising an energy source for providing energy, an input conduit adapted, when the energy source is operating, to transfer the energy to an area of the device adapted to hold the foodstuff, at least temporarily, an exit conduit providing leakage suppression of the energy, the exit conduit and the foodstuff area being co-located in a manner which enables the foodstuff when popped to exit the device after being energised.

[0050] In another aspect of embodiments described herein there is provided a method for and/or a dispenser adapted to dispense kernels to a device for energising foodstuffs, comprising a chamber adapted to hold the kernels, a temperature control element in association with the chamber and being controllable to provide the contents of the chamber at a predetermined and/or selected temperature, and a valve adapted to regulate the flow of kernels from the chamber to the device.

[0051] In yet a further aspect of embodiments described herein there is provided a method for and/or a pod adapted to provide flavouring to foodstuff, comprising a housing adapted to holding at least one flavouring, a piercing element, provided within the pod, an attachment mechanism for attaching the pod to a bag or container, and a frangible surface operative in use with the piercing element.

[0052] In yet a further aspect of embodiments described herein there is provided a method for and/or a pod adapted to provide flavouring to foodstuff in association with a popcorn machine, comprising a housing adapted to holding at least one flavouring, an attachment mechanism for attaching the pod to the machine, and an openable surface adapted to enable flavour to exit the pod.

[0053] In yet a further aspect of embodiments described herein there is provided a method of and/or a device for providing flavouring into a sealed container, comprising providing a container, providing a pod having flavouring therein, attaching the pod to the container, and using the pod to deliver the flavouring into the container.

[0054] In yet a further aspect of embodiments described herein there is provided a method of and/or device for providing flavouring to foodstuff, comprising providing a foodstuff storage area, regulating the flow of the foodstuff from the storage area to a container, and providing flavouring in the path of the flow of the foodstuff.

[0055] In yet a further aspect of embodiments described herein there is provided a method of and/or device for popping foodstuff, comprising the step of providing an increased temperature delta for the foodstuff by providing the foodstuff at an initial temperature (prior to popping) of between -6 C to 15 C.

[0056] In yet a further aspect of embodiments described herein there is provided a method of and/or device for popping foodstuff, comprising the step of providing an increased moisture content for the foodstuff by providing the foodstuff at 2% higher than recommended by the manufacturer/supplier of the foodstuff.

[0057] In yet a further aspect of embodiments described herein there is provided a method of and/or device for accessing and resealing a container, comprising providing a resealable access port, attaching the port to the container, in a manner substantially surrounding the area to be accessed, making a hole in the container within the area to be accessed, and using the port to reseal/cover the hole.

[0058] Other aspects and preferred forms are disclosed in the specification and/or defined in the appended claims, forming a part of the description of the invention.

[0059] In essence, embodiments of the present invention stem from the realization that there is a need for a microwave based, relatively high performance, compact system for producing, fresh, serving-sized, popcorn at high speed, suitable for `consumer facing` locations/situations (e.g. coffee shops, convenience stores, vending machines and alike) as well as domestic use.

[0060] The present invention is directed to producing fresh popcorn, from loose (non-packet) kernels, substantially without the use of oil, with relatively reduced moisture (on exit), and controlled heating duration of the kernels in order to both eliminate `overcooking`, safeguarding nutritional value and ensure relative product consistency. The solution may provide variable kernel types and/or portion sizes.

[0061] The present invention enables variable serving size at relatively ultra-high speed and without the need for operator involvement between each serving (button press or even automatic); which, in combination with, its `bench top` style enables compact size and standard power requirements, ideally suited for general, consumer facing, establishment which need to service variable demand levels and with minimal wait time. The use of loose kernels and `free-flow` design permits flexibility of serving containers.

[0062] Flavouring and/or additives may be added post-production to provide a selected and variable range or consumer combinations of flavouring. Adherence of flavouring to the popped kernels, with minimal or no oil added is preferred and is achieved through the residue of moisture still on the popped kernels due to their freshness, the quick popping and extraction action in accordance with other aspects of the present invention.

[0063] The present invention is considered highly robust accommodating variability in kernels varieties and conditions (or even non corn kernels). A further innovation is provided by the option to manipulate the size/shape of the final product using increased thermal delta.

[0064] Current `popping` solutions fail to address many of these aspects, making them unable to provide a `coffee machine` type experience for popcorn lovers.

[0065] The use of a non-resonance popping chamber is advantageous and allows `free flow` of popped corn through a `flue` and thermal feedback loop and/or timer control and/or reflection sensing. The differences are:

Flavouring

[0066] In accordance with the present invention, a user may select one or more flavours (or combination of flavours).

[0067] In accordance with the present invention, the user may select one or more quantities of flavouring to add to foodstuffs.

[0068] In accordance with the present invention, a POD is provided with a measured quantity and/or concentration of flavouring. A user may select a pod, or a number of pods to provide a suitable flavour or flavour combination.

Dispenser Unit

[0069] Unlike prior art kernel delivery units which have a chopper style of design which stores the kernels and supplies them automatically to the cooking chamber in a continuous manner, in the present invention, the kernel dispenser unit feeds kernels into the popcorn maker in a particular manner. In the present invention, there is a `canister approach`, in which the kernels are measured out for each serving, according to the serving size selected. The canister approach provides multiple benefits. The kernels are better protected (humidity, heat, contaminants and so on) up to the point of delivery into the popping chamber. The delivery is relatively directly into the popping chamber (into the microwave flow path). The replacement of an empty canister or selection of another canister with different foodstuffs therein is a relatively quick, simple, action item by an operator and limited space (ie not much experience is required to refill, no substantial risk of spillage/mess, fast turnaround). A further benefit is the ability to manage the temperature in order to vary popcorn texture/size and quality of popping. There is no handling of the kernels (vs. hopper where the operator has to move the kernels from one container to the hopper container).

[0070] Regarding humidity and heat, controlling the conditions under which the corn kernels are kept, minimizing variation, minimizing high temperature, seeking no contamination (food hygiene) seeking the popping qualities of the kernels are maintained for a lengthy amount of time (even more important in lower volume-add-hoc environments). For popcorn to pop properly it has been realised by the inventors that the moisture level must be maintained at a substantially optimal level (approximately 13.7%). Changes in heat and humidity can cause stress to the endosperm and possible fractures. The effect of fractures is to effect popping quality. It is beneficial to keep the kernels at a lower temperature to reduce moisture loss, reduce deterioration and so on. The effect of all these is to increase significantly foodstuff storage life and maintain good quality popping.

[0071] The design of the canister and popping machines means that the kernels fall directly into pipe where microwave energy flows (the cap and popping cup), this is not an area where biological contamination (bacteria etc) is an issue due to the high intensity of the microwave radiation. Again reducing the maintenance/cleaning operations.

[0072] The dispenser unit may also temperature controlled, this gives the ability to manipulate the kernel temperature prior to cooking/popping through increasing/reducing thermal delta, it has been realised that the higher the rate (differential) of temperature increase in cooking, the larger the size of the popped corn, within a predetermined temperature range. Furthermore, if the kernels are provided into the cooking chamber at or near a relatively similar temperature, the size of the popped kernels will be relatively more uniform. That is the present invention utilises the relationship between temperature and kernel size and/or consistency in popping the kernel. The design of the system (and the canister) is to allow the kernels to be delivered relatively rapidly into the popping chamber and popped rapidly. This means that that we are able to vary the thermal deltas, starting temperature of the kernels and then the rapid heating action with the high intensity microwave. This invention of thermal control of the kernels prior to the delivery and the quick sequence allows the unit to manipulate popping size (and resulting texture) for example, increase popping size vs popcorn that is at ambient temperature.

POD

[0073] Basically there are at least a number of different seasoning/additive solutions in total-- [0074] [1] POD specifically designed for the popcorn popping or hopper system [0075] [2] POD is for general use for snack bags (using an adhesive layer or other suitable means to adhere or couple in a relatively sealed manner to the snack bag/container). [0076] [3] POD with applicator that is designed to stay in a food snack bag [0077] [4] any combination thereof.

[0078] The concept with all PODs is the ability to add a variety of flavouring, seasoning, food additives etc, in varying quantities (e.g. 2.times. chocolate pods for double strength). The problem be it popcorn machine or snack bag is how to deliver it within no (or minimum mess) and better distribution.

[0079] Prior art forms of post flavouring include: shakers (similar to salt & pepper shakers but with flavours suited for popcorn, e.g. cheddar cheese, butter flavour, etc) which tend to have large holes distributed across most of the dispensing surface to ensure good flow, satchels with flavouring, dispensers (pump type mostly) for liquids (e.g. butter flavours), a mixing bowl (can be variety of shapes, with or without handles, close or open design). There are also some prior art that has not been commercialized which provides a funnel solution (e.g. straw with holes) to deliver liquid flavouring vertically along the height of the popcorn container. The shakers, satchels and dispensers are designed to add flavours on top of the popped popcorn and then require the user to mix them (or in the case of the `straw funnel` mix around. By contrast, the POD content is delivered in sync with the flow, or at one or more stepped intervals, (so no mixing) and it needs to be highly directed towards a narrow area with flow control, not interfering with the flow of popcorn and accommodating multiple pods with sufficient content in a small space; OR in the case of the POD for snack bags/containers is delivered via a controlled channel which substantially eliminates dispersal to the outside atmosphere.

[0080] One POD is designed to be used with a popcorn machine. This is a unique design (different from standard pod design which is used, for example, for salt & shaker, the standard design favour positioning the holes either across the surface of the pad or surrounding (using different formation) the centre of the pod). The standard pod design is deficient with regards to the proposed invention. In the present invention, the flow of popcorn is through a relatively narrow funnel due to (1) the need to filter microwave, (2) ability to accommodate different volume of serving and thus different size of container opening and (3) better control the seasoning/flavouring. Further it is important to note that the seasoning/flavouring/particles require to be accommodated can vary significantly in size (e.g. sour cream and chives, the latter being larger/visible size), however, vast majority of the powder delivered must be relatively fine in order to ensure best adhesion and distribution. The need to deliver relatively large quantity of seasoning, within a short time, in a directed area and while reducing (or eliminating) the `floating off` of particles (both to avoid cross contaminations of flavours for next batches and as it is not desirable for the retail environment), requires a different design pod from the standard approach. To ensure control, handling of different size particles, relatively large flow and so on, the PODs and the associated `shaking mechanism` are provided in a different way. In the present invention, the PODs holes are located substantially to one side of the POD. The quantity of seasoning dispensed is accommodated by the length of the pod rather circumference. As will be herein later disclosed, the POD is positioned at an angle to the exit flue and the release motion (shaking) is more akin to tapping (a short arc and forward-back movement). This approach has been found to provide for more controlled dispersal vs. a vertical (up-down) movement. (In a prior art POD all the seasoning is vertical over the holes and a fine balance need to be achieved between flow of powder strength of shaking and associated dispersal/control). The POD of the present invention provides greater control at its angled position. The design of the POD also accommodates larger particles which may have been mixed into the powder, as the flow rate is better controlled it is possible to have larger holds without the flow the fine powder being compromised. Further advantage of this design (long, smaller surface area, one side opening, and angled shake) is that it accommodates more easily multiple PODs around the opening where the popcorn is coming out. This is important as the invention allows an almost infinite variety flavouring/additive combination to be added through the selection of one or more PODs by the user and that all the flavouring is reaching the popcorn as they flow out of the flue as they pop.

[0081] In one form, the pod is designed with a foil or other covering over the holes, which is peeled of manually or punctured by the machine to expose the holes. Another benefit of the design is that it accommodates the possibility of the popcorn popping machine actually puncturing the hold on the one side through a foil, as the edge design for holes means it is unlikely to rip (vs. centre design) as most of the foil seal is left in tact this will reduce the cost of the PODs and further improve the speed of operations.

[0082] Another POD is suitable for use with general snacks in bag. Consumers are interested in greater variety of flavours as well as supplements (e.g. there are now `protein chips` which add a protein to the `chips snack` for some health benefit). The economics of providing a `personalized snack experience` are simply not possible unless one can add these post purchase or at point of purchase. The difficulty in adding seasoning/flavouring post production and without a specialized mixing machine is distribution of the additive, the messiness involved, and the fact that unless one chooses to consume the product right away, exposing it to air starts accelerating the process of deterioration, this limits the ability of the store to sell complex (personalised mixes) to consumer unless they, the consumer, tends to consume right away.

[0083] The POD addresses these problems. The operation is to remove sticker from POD (release paper), stick to bag, press POD to release or expel the flavouring/additive to bag and turn the bag a few times around and shake. The mixing happens inside the bag so relatively no additive/powered escapes (even with 360 rotation and normal shaking allowing the additive to be distributed well throughout). Since both the POD content and the content of the bag are produced in a food grade facility and with protection measures (e.g. modified atmosphere packaging) against the deterioration, condemnation and alike combining the two `chamber` still ensure that these `factory conditions` are substantially maintained. Another benefit of this design is that maintaining the positive (and extra space) of the Modified Atmosphere inside the bag helps the mixing process as the snack moves inside more easily and it is better protected. The outcome of this process is a snack with new flavouring or healthy additives which is, in effect, in substantially similar state as a factory shipped bag, however, with a small pod sticking from the side. This solution allows multiple pods to be used on the one bag so that the consumer or shop can create unique mixtures of flavours (or strength) and additives which can be health additives and even large particles (e.g. dried fruit bits). The design also allows the size of the POD to be produced to different scale (e.g. supporting trail mix if so desired). The POD is NOT limited to snacks. It is in effect a solution to deliver additives to sealed food having a layer of covering that can be permeated with a sharp edge and which allows the POD to be stuck on and for the content to be delivered, this may mean adding to yogurt cup some flavours/additives (see how you get separate cup on some with some mix), marinade to meat tray, etc). The seal ensures that the quality of the food is not compromised in any significant way--so not starting the deterioration process. Other benefits of the POD include the substantial containment of the added flavouring within the bag/container so that the consumer is delivered a maximum scent impact which improves the flavour experience (due the significant contribution of the sense of smell to the impact of taste) [a major differentiation from existing solution]; as well as the ability activation to meet the needs of consumer with different dexterity levels (e.g. elderly).

[0084] A modified POD uses a variant of POD to accommodate also the popcorn machine. The difference is that it is applied to the container used by the customer with the addition of an earlier cutting of the foil on one side to mimic the popcorn machine POD design, i.e. one side cut.

[0085] Another modified variant of the POD is designed for use with Microwave meals or meals heated by other means.

[0086] Yet another alternative is a capsule with applicator, that is a POD with an internal capsule, the capsule may contain another item, novelty toy or additive, etc. This provides a similar benefit to POD, i.e. not affecting substantially the internal atmosphere, however, it requires that the capsule remains in the bag OR that a more complex valve system be incorporated into the design. Its benefits are that the quantity which can be delivered is larger and can be distributed directly to the centre of the snack. It can also be used to insert other things (e.g. a surprise toy, e.g. similar to Kinder Surprise.RTM. chocolate). The other benefit is that most of the applicator can be crushed or even go inside the bag so little sticks out (vs. POD).

[0087] Advantages provided by the present invention comprise the following: [0088] A non-resonant cavity results in more consistent product production of kernel foodstuffs; [0089] Popped kernels are exited out of the flue as they pop, whereas in prior art cavity resonator designs will continue to heat kernels that have already popped and `over-cook` them [0090] The present invention allows a variety of containers solutions to be used (e.g. bag, box, etc. and different sizes; and even multiple batches into a larger container) as the popcorn is captured at the output flue (exit pipe) vs. the above patent which is limited to a cup design. [For commercial operations (or domestic) it means that they can use their pre-existing container options with all the supply logistics associated with it, very important operationally (also marketing, e.g. logo, distinctive containers etc). [0091] The `free flow` approach allows for quicker turn around between batches (important for high volume requirements and quicker customer service), permits manual or automatic insertion of popcorn kernels without having to open the unit. The `free-flow` approach means that we are able to support a variety of quantities of kernels (i.e. several layers high) and types of kernels (there are a large variety of different kernels types with different characteristics) in the containment with simplicity and consistent results, all without the risk of `over cooking`. [0092] The `free-flow` ensures mostly popped kernels are in the user container, whereas many prior art designs may result with un-popped popcorn, both a quality control issue as well as concern with regards to young kids (e.g. teeth). [0093] Complementing the `free-flow` approach are optional microwave source protection, cut-off`, circuits using either thermal or microwave reflection sensors. As the popcorn vacates the container the amount of microwave reflection back would increase. We are able to use this design characteristic to automatically shut off the microwave, reducing waste of energy, protecting the microwave source and automatically stopping the cycle when popping has been achieved irrespective of the quantity or type used. As overcooking risk is limited in the present design, we also provide an optional (cheaper) timer circuit based on tested quantities with some small time buffer (note: another feedback mechanism for sensing the quantity of kernels in the storage cup is weight sensor). [0094] The system design is highly modular which allows for optimized configuration of the various subsystems without necessitating the same level of system redesign which would be required by non-modular designs--e.g. internal cup holder for raw kernels can be designed to provide different microwave `loads` and directed airflow; the cap/funnel path for the popped kernels can be optimized to guide the popped kernels more smoothly up as well as reduced reflections, and so on. [0095] The design of the present invention is inherently less complex than that of the prior art, an important aspect both in terms of production and ongoing reliability [the latter being especially significant for commercial operation servicing customers]. [0096] The dimensions and configuration of the cooking chamber (vis a vis standard wave guide) are designed to optimise delivery of energy. The prior art are restricted to use of a pre-defined cup size (ie in-line with standard portions/customer hand size) which constrains the design flexibility of the microwave subsystem (wave-guide chamber); [0097] With popped kernels designed to leave the cooking chamber, the present design may increase cooking power used, thus shorten the cooking time as there is little, if any, popped kernels falling back into the cooking chamber and overcooking. An optional airflow assists in getting popped kernels out the exit of the system. [0098] In the present invention, popping may be achieved in about 3 seconds from time Microwave tube reaches desired temperature to start emitting [dependent on quantity, e.g. 30 kernels is approx. 3 seconds with 800 W microwave] [0099] Furthermore, the present design has found to convey a relatively direct relationship between number of kernels cooking and cooking time, for example testing has shown 3 second cooking=30 kernels, 15 seconds=150 kernels (very large quantity) etc, microwave tube to warm up on standard home units 10 seconds, however, can be made quicker if kept warmed or between cycles. Testing was made with a 600 W-1200 W, preferably 800 W microwave. The time is also dependent upon the type of kernel or foodstuff and the temperature delta of the foodstuff prior to popping. The optimal configuration utilizes a Continuous Wave microwave source operating within a narrow band 2540 MHz+/-15 Mhz, although in order to reduce costs it is possible to use other setups. [0100] Canister approach of the dispenser unit provides a selected or variable quantity of kernels to the cooking chamber [0101] Canister is a sealed unit providing foodstuff protection at all stages from supply up to delivery and popping. There is less handling, significantly less exposure to contaminants, air, etc. It also means that the canister can be sent back for refill at factory conditions [0102] The canister approach provides for quick replacement without mess, with little experience, labour and without the kernels being exposed to the environment [0103] The optional temperature control of the kernels, in or associated with the dispenser unit enables improved quality of cooking and `popped` kernels. It extends the shelf life of the kernels and maintaining the popping qualities, ensure that there are no contamination and mould. The temperature control may also be associated with the popping machine remote from the canister, and/or in combination with the canister. The temperature control may contemplate heating or cooling to a selected temperature. [0104] The canister reduces cleaning requirements as compared to hopper like solution or other storage units which are part of the system and which need to be opened to be topped up. [0105] As a sealed, managed unit the canister can be optionally provided with a reporting system to integrate into store computer (or cloud solution) to provide accurate recording of the quantities produced providing insight into demand for the product by time/date/etc as well as alerting against `shrinkage` if does not correlate with cash register intakes. This can also advise re-supply requirements. [0106] The canister solution can provide the establishment and the consumer with the confidence that the best product in the best condition is provided through the supply chain by optional mechanism such as temp proofing, anti-counterfeiting (important for some territories where quality of food products is compromised by such issues). It is also possible (optional) to fit the canister with sensors to monitor moisture, temperature and possible lock from use if parameters have been exceed inside the container. [0107] The container can be designed with insulating walls for better protection. [0108] An optional design allows the flow control mechanism to be built around the entry pipe (as well as the cooling system) thus reducing the cost as the canister becomes `dumb` container with the intelligence and control residing in the microwave popping system. [0109] The use of the canister provides better traceability/quality control as different batches cannot be mixed as is possible in a hopper unit (where the shop can top up). [0110] Nutritional advantage--affecting the water molecules directly and providing a fast process maximises the nutritional value. [0111] A general advantage of the solution is far lower food hygiene issues that need to be addressed, ie lower maintenance and experience at the shop. No oil is used, the microwave has a somewhat sterilising effect where the moisture resides (e.g. killing bacteria). The kernels pop directly from canister to chamber, there is little by way of contamination and there is no use of oil. Food safety and cleaning are big issues for stores. [0112] The system design lends itself to a variety of implementation, e.g. can be used in a vending solution. Prior art solutions, such as popping in the cup are not suitable for vending systems. The ability to incorporate the same base system/design can enable larger adoption which typically results in lowering of costs, improved support through such issues as familiarity and availability of spares, and further innovation due to installed based. The free-flow with the exit pipe means that it is far simpler (and more reliable) to operate as a self-serve solution; customer are familiar with flow type solution as it is common for drink, self-serve ice cream and alike. It also means that the unit/s can be incorporated into the shop `wall` and only the customer facing element (pipe) is exposed (since there are no lids/doors/etc), a common features in self-serve frozen yogurt establishment. This is just a sample of the flexibility of this approach. [0113] The exit pipe with filter means that the microwave solution is far safer. The control is not done by door or other sensors found on typical microwave ovens or prior art system using a cup in a microwave. The system uses the `physics of wave` to provide the necessary safety thus, there is not risk of fault sensors and also less likelihood of maintenance as less parts to fail (important for high volume commercial use). [0114] Safety is also inherent in the fact that you do not have hot oil and any risk of steam is reduced (e.g. vs. opening a packet). [0115] The POD design accommodates different contents of different size and type (e.g. fine powder, larger granules and even liquid), it edge holes/opening design (which can be produced with different hole size/arrangement), in combination with its angled attachment to outflow of popcorn and automated process, and unusual height/to dispending side ratio, ensures that flow is able to be better controlled for different content and for different volumes. [0116] The invention is not limited to a specific opening for delivery of contents via POD(s). [0117] The POD or a plurality of PODs may be placed almost anywhere. [0118] The POD(s) may be placed at a users' considered most appropriate delivery location. [0119] After use, the POD(s) may remain attached to the packet/container in order to reduce litter. [0120] The POD(s) are versatile in the packet/container they can be applied to. i.e. a single POD design may be applied to multiple and varied packets and containers. [0121] The POD design is scaleable. The size/shape may be provided altered depending on the contents to be delivered according to the present invention. [0122] The design of the POD supports various contents, which may be granular, liquid, solid or any combination thereof. [0123] The contents of the POD may be delivered into the packet/container without exposure to outside atmosphere. This has a benefit on a persons sense of taste through the impact on sense of smell when the packet (with POD contents) is initially opened. [0124] The POD geometry allows multiple PODs to be placed at the small area where the popcorn flows out of the popcorn maker. Thus, it is possible to deliver, with good homogeneity, a large number of different additives at a desired concentration level, e.g. multiple pods of chocolate flavour (for extra strength) together with functional additives (e.g. whey protein), build new flavour combinations (e.g. chilli strawberry butter flavours) and so on). [0125] The POD solution provides quality assurance as it is self-contained, single use, dispensing pod thus, it can provide product assurance for consumer with different requirements (e.g. allergies [e.g. specific no nut or gluten versions of the different flavours POD], Religious and other convictions requirements (e.g. Halal, Vegan, etc.); health additives (e.g. pre-meal requirements), etc.]. It can incorporate added security measures (e.g. proof of temper on the label, anti-counterfeiting measures, etc). It thus provides consumer both with a superior product as well as with the ability, for many consumers, who are not accommodated due to economics, to enjoy a full range of flavours (additives). [0126] The design of the POD and the in-sync flavouring enables lower quantities of additives to be added into the popcorn while ensuring good homogenous flavouring. It can provide health benefits through reduced additives (e.g. food colouring), reduced calories, reduced costs (less material), etc. Homogeneity also improves user's experience. [0127] The POD when used for the popcorn machine also provides superior benefits to current solutions as its design and the associated movement (shaker/vibrator) means that that flavour dispersal area is relatively small (and better controlled) and is able to be intermixed in parallel so as to deliver a substantially homogenous outcome to all the popcorn dropping into the container. [0128] Mixing is done in sync with the popcorn production (the speed of it and the narrow output pipe) it provides unmatched distribution of additives into the popcorn and with no delays which will reduce the adhesive nature of the retained moisture. [0129] Minimal adhesive (e.g. Oil, Water, etc) may be used to bind flavouring to popcorn (vs. alternatives), superior flavours quality (distribution) and a wider range of combinations (as adding flavours sequentially as is the prior art way means that the adhesion space on the popcorn maybe already occupied).

[0130] Some advantages of post-popping, personalized, flavourings include, but are not limited to: [0131] the ability to accommodate a large variety of customer desires and requirements with regards to such elements of flavouring mixes (combinations), flavouring strength (multiples), supplements (e.g. functional additives such as whey protein, vitamins, etc) while also accommodating specific avoidance or compliance requirements relating to the additives (e.g. issues of allergies, religious certification and compliance requirement, lifestyle choices (e.g. Vegan), and so on, many consumers are currently constrained by their choices due to these issues). [0132] The in-sync of flavouring with popping delivers a more homogenous solution and can help in reducing the quantity, e.g. reducing calories, salt, etc while maintain substantially the same experience. The controlled flow and finer powder can also assist in reducing the quantities used. [0133] Flavouring may also be provided in a stepped manner, ie flavouring at one or more points in the flow of the foodstuff. [0134] The foodstuff and flavouring may be layered. [0135] The quick cycle of just-in-time production and flavouring just prior to production can provide benefits in such area as reduced preservatives. [0136] Post production flavouring reduces the quantity of food that is discarded due to changes in consumption pattern.

[0137] Further scope of applicability of embodiments of the present invention will become apparent from the detailed description given hereinafter. However, it should be understood that the detailed description and specific examples, while indicating preferred embodiments of the invention, are given by way of illustration only, since various changes and modifications within the spirit and scope of the disclosure herein will become apparent to those skilled in the art from this detailed description.

[0138] Throughout this specification, reference to `popcorn` (as it relates to the microwave popping as disclosed herein) includes any foodstuff capable of being `popped`, such as, without limitation, popcorn, Amaranth, Quinoa, Millet, Sorghum (other seeds exhibiting similar characteristics to popping corn such as an outer casing (pericarp), internal moisture and density of a certain characteristic so that the moisture turns to steam, pressure builds and only then the pericarp is breached/`popped`. In all other instances, not relating specifically to the microwave popping--the word `popcorn` should be taken to be read as referring to foodstuff.

[0139] Throughout this specification, reference to `foodstuff` includes, without limitation, any food. For example, without limitation, popcorn, or other food.

[0140] Throughout this specification, reference to `flavouring` includes any, or any form, of flavour, additives, nutrition, supplements, content, any material or substance within a POD, enhancers and/or any substance or chemical which may be added to foodstuff or included into a bag or container. The flavouring may be solid, (granular and/or powder), liquid or gas or any combination thereof.

[0141] Throughout this specification, reference to `popped` or `popping` includes without limitation any transformation of any foodstuff that expands from the kernel and puffs up when heated. Often, but not always, when heated, pressure builds within the kernel, and a small explosion (or "pop") is the end result.

[0142] Throughout this specification, reference to `bag` or `container` includes bag, container, vessel, carton, package, packet, sack, storage, receptacle, repository, box, chamber, pouch, compartment, tray or any closable bag or container.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0143] Further disclosure, objects, advantages and aspects of preferred and other embodiments of the present application may be better understood by those skilled in the relevant art by reference to the following description of embodiments taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, which are given by way of illustration only, and thus are not limitative of the disclosure herein, and in which:

[0144] FIG. 1 illustrates a schematic of an apparatus in accordance with one aspect of invention;

[0145] FIG. 2A illustrates an embodiment of post-popping flavouring;

[0146] FIG. 2B illustrates another embodiment of post-popping flavouring;

[0147] FIG. 3 illustrates an embodiment of the positioning of hole(s) of a Pod and Pod arc movement;

[0148] FIG. 4 illustrates an embodiment of the positioning of Pod(s) on the device;

[0149] FIGS. 5A to 5I, 6 and 7 illustrate various embodiments of a POD;

[0150] FIG. 8 illustrates one embodiment of the capsule and applicator suitable for inserting seasoning capsule or other objects into a pre-packaged food (e.g. snack bag)

[0151] FIGS. 9, 10, 11 and 12 illustrate some different outlet pipe designs in accordance with an aspect of invention;

[0152] FIGS. 13A and 13B provide an illustration of the arrangement of holes [bottom of the popping cup] according to embodiments of the present invention;

[0153] FIG. 14 illustrates a Pod adapted for use with pre-packaged food;

[0154] FIGS. 15A to 15D illustrate various embodiments of a POD;

[0155] FIGS. 16A and 16B illustrate a POD with multiple colouring or marking;

[0156] FIGS. 17A, 17B and 17C illustrate a rivet;

[0157] FIGS. 18 to 21 and 23 illustrate further embodiments of the POD according to various aspects of invention;

[0158] FIG. 22 illustrates a prototype POD attached to an `off the shelf` popcorn bag (note that the POD can connect to any appropriate foodstuff bag/container--i.e. not limited to popcorn;

[0159] FIGS. 23, 24, 25, 27 and 28 illustrate various other embodiments of a POD

[0160] FIGS. 29A and 29B illustrate further embodiment of the POD tailored for microwave (and other heat source) applications;

[0161] FIG. 26 illustrates adhesive arrangements used for different embodiments of the POD;

[0162] FIG. 30 illustrates further embodiments of the microwave popper raw kernel holder;

[0163] FIG. 31 illustrates an alternative approach for improving the process of combining the `adhesive POD` with the bag/container as well as an alternate design whereby the adhesive and peel-of-label (release paper) is relocated from the `adhesive POD` standard design to the bag/container; and

[0164] FIG. 32 illustrates the concept of the movement flavouring pod for microwave popper or automatic hopper using a rotational approach with deformation.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0165] With reference to FIG. 1, there is shown a schematic of one embodiment of an apparatus according to an aspect of the present invention. The above figure shows some of the subassemblies that make up the system.

[0166] The kernel popping apparatus [marked with numerals 1 to 14]. It comprises of a wave guide (numerals 2 and 4), a cooking or `popping chamber` (numeral 6), a `funnelling chamber` (numeral 9), an outlet flue/pipe which acts as a filter (numeral 13) and an intake pipe (numeral 10).

[0167] A microwave source/tube, e.g. magnetron (marked with numerals 15, 16). The electromagnetic generator may be an oscillator, a tube oscillator or a magnetron generator. It has a predetermined power output that is preferably matched to the material to be processed to obtain a suitable heating efficiency and achieve magnitude intensity subject to the power output. Numerals 1, 2, 4 denote the microwave source and wave guide. (Numeral 1 shows where the microwave source tube is installed, e.g. magnetron as shown by numerals 15-16). Numerals 2 and 4 show the microwave wave guide which has been designed to maximize efficiency and distribution of waves into the `popping cup`.

[0168] The generator power output is transmitted to the sample via a shielded rectangular/circular/coaxial guide 4. Due to convenience a rectangular transmission means can be converted into a circular/coaxial means. The same applies to a circular or a coaxial transmission means. There are preferably tuning stubs to match the impedance of a sample to the output impedance of a generator

[0169] There may be an isolator to protect the generator of unwanted/unacceptable reflection.

[0170] A kernel storage-feeder unit with optional thermal unit (marked by numerals 17 to 21). A further innovation is the manipulation of kernel size/texture/shape via the thermal element.

[0171] The sample is held in a specially constructed holder preferably made of special food grade material which has the required chemical, mechanical and thermal properties for optimum processing as stated above. The holder or applicator for this method of food processing can take several forms or cross section which may be generally arbitrary. It can be rectangular, circular, elliptic or even coaxial or a combination of cross sections. In one particular example a combination form is used such as a rectangular cross section butted onto a circular cross section or vice versa.

[0172] Raw kernels are entered via an opening at the top (see `intake pipe` 10, with the entry point being at numeral 11). The kernels are delivered into this opening either via an automated process (such as the storage-feeder unit 17 to 21) or via a manual method (e.g. funnel or measured cup).

[0173] The kernels fall into a storage cup, labelled `popping cup` (7) which is integrated into the `popping chamber` (label 6) and where the raw, loose, kernels are later subject to microwave energy and are popped. The cup is made of suitable material which allows penetration of microwave (e.g. Teflon.RTM., poly propylene, ceramics designed for microwave, for example, but other suitable materials may be used also). The metal `popping chamber` (6) is design to be matched or `tunned` with the waveguide in the way which provides substantially optimal energy use and distribution. The `popping cup` (7) is relatively small as it only holds the raw, loose, kernels prior to popping (the present invention aims to have popped kernels vacate the cup as soon as they pop). The popping cup 7 positions the kernels slightly away from the wall of the `popping chamber` (6) which in combination with the matching of the wave guide, the overall design and the small size of the cup seeks to have the kernels subjected to relatively high concentrated energy, substantially evenly distributed and substantially able to penetrate multiple layers of kernels. (The energy drops towards where the metal cup (6) joins with the wave guide (4) thus positioning the kernels more central provides improved performance and consistency). [Additional embodiments of the storage cup are shown in FIG. 30--illustrating different airflow designs and microwave load option.]

[0174] When the microwave source is activated the resultant energy impinges the kernels in the cup 7 and results in the corn kernels `popping`. As the kernels pop, they bounce into to `funnelling chamber` above (9) and travel out through the `outflow pipe` (13). The flow of kernels may be assisted by an (optional) air pressure or suction via the pipes labelled 3 and/or 10 (also used as intake pipe) [note that 5 refers to optional air-holes in cup 7 to assist with the process and that FIG. 30 provides additional illustration of cup airflow designs]. As the popped kernels exit from the `outflow pipe` (13) at the location shown by numeral 14, the popped kernels will fall into a suitable container or next process (not shown) for either servicing, flavouring or packing. (Flavouring subsystem denoted by `block` labelled 23).

[0175] The outflow pipe 13 (in combination with the design of the funnelling chamber 9) is designed to filter the microwave so as to be compliant with safety requirements permitting the flow-through of the popped kernels from the cup 7 through to the outflow pipe 13, simplifying the operation and removing the quality issue of some unpopped kernels remaining in the cup or bag or alternatively the necessity of an extra step to remove any residual popcorn left in the cup or cooking chamber as is found with prior art designs. The free-flow, in combination with the speed of popping, assists with the subsequent stage of flavouring (optional) as the distribution of flavouring (from POD or dispensing tube) is easier to synchronise with the flow of the popped kernel and adherence of the flavouring to the popcorn is better assured with a slight moisture level and heat retained.

[0176] When processing kernels, their instantaneous expansion requires a rapid expulsion/suction of popped kernels. Expulsion/suction is also necessary to remove unpopped or popped kernels that were left behind for subsequent popping/processing for obvious hygienic operation.

[0177] Several supporting components (e.g. power supply, pneumatic systems, control and timing systems, and so on) numeral 22. [Pneumatic system--refers to the optional air pressure system to improved flow of the popped corn, better control moisture levels and provides a mechanism for cleaning the system of any un-popped kernels or debris instead of a manual or electro-mechanical solution].

[0178] Optional flavouring (external) subsystem (numeral 23).

[0179] Another (optional) element (not show above) is a container for capturing the popcorn as it exits (typically customer supplied container). An optional solution is bag attachment (also not shown, such as roll type with cutting seam) which incorporates an optional flavouring module.

[0180] The ideal operating requirements consist of the maximum intensity possible from the power output together with the maximum power absorption. This is because the higher the intensity the faster the processing rate. The maximum is the power absorption the lesser the energy consumption the more efficient process. This invention has the potential for delivering such efficiency.

[0181] The present invention achieves both objectives by the placement of a special holder or container or cup holding the sample at the place where the intensity of the electromagnetic energy (HF, RF microwaves, UHF) is maximum together with the placement of tuning stubs along the transmission means to aid the power transmission and to minimize the reflection of energy. These tuning stubs can be pre-fixed, mechanically tuned or automatically tuned. [Note that as loads very with the removal of the popped kernels the storage cup (7) is available in different materials providing different `load` configurations--see also FIG. 30. It should be further noted that additional load/absorption may be added past the popping chamber e.g. via suitable coating, ceramic parts, etc.].

[0182] Cleaning of any debris (if there are) can be achieved by various methods including via the airflow/air-suction pipes (3 and/or 10). An optional trap door can be installed at the end of the `exit` pipe 14 which closes on suction via the pipe 11, or other solutions are also possible such as, without limitation, a clearing tray, tipping the cup etc (e.g. in FIG. 30--3001 do not have holes beneath the raw kernels deposited--a suction cycle with `trap door` like design will allow debris to drop and be sucked out via the pneumatic system).

[0183] The design permits automation of batch processes, ie automatically releasing raw kernels and popping. (Including an optional cleaning as part of the cycle). Being automated and able to handle a range of quantity of kernels allows it to be easily integrated into external system for improved performance. The flavouring stage can also be automated through integration to system control performance (popping) is within quick and within a very narrow time band.

[0184] As highlighted previously the `popping` cup which holds the raw kernel as they are subjected to the microwave energy is relatively small in size. The design enables popped kernels to vacate the cup soon after `popping`. The waveguide and cup are designed to optimise use of the microwave energy as well as provide uniformity of kernel cooking/popping. The cup keeps the kernels as at a relatively optimized position including away from the side walls of the chamber where radiation would be less intense and also positions the kernels (when in the cup) to be in a position where they are exposed to relatively uniform energy levels when the waveguide/microwave is operating. The design avoids resonance chamber, large cavity and trapping of both popped kernels and moisture. The design is an open-flow design with the popped kernels vacating the popping chamber and substantially not being subjected to further microwave energy, it is important to highlight that due to a variety of variations in the kernels (moisture content, composition differences, size and so on) the kernels do not pop at the same time. In some systems, the time differences between first popped kernel to last can be greater than 1 minute].

[0185] In testing, for one embodiment, the popping chamber 6 is preferably approximately 90-100 mm in diameter and has a wall height of approximately 60-80 mm, preferably 64 mm. Other sizes of cup are completed without departing from the scope of the invention. The cup should be matched to the waveguide and also take into account the cup material and the foodstuff to be energised. This is based on 600-1200 W Magnetron. It is also realised that the popping device can be `scaled` thus, more energy is needed for larger units.

[0186] The flow cap/funnelling chamber 9 works on a ray tracing principle: any popped corn thrown up should hit, deflecting and bouncing into the exit pipe [Note that flow is further assisted by further embodiments of the storage cup--as illustrated in FIG. 30 with ducted airflow through the walls of storage cup directing most of the airflow to kernels that have popped e.g. (3002)]

[0187] The outflow pipe 13 acts as a leakage suppressor to suppress microwaves at the outlet at level greater than 1 mw/cm*2. An outflow pipe of around 140 mm seems to work well in the tested embodiment. FIGS. 9, 10, 11 and 12 illustrate some different outlet pipe designs which serve to operate as a suppressor and enable the popcorn to exit. Other designs are contemplated within the scope of the present invention. The modular design of the system where the funnelling cap and exit pipe can be changed allows it to accommodate different requirements. While less efficient in terms of popping the corn they can provide benefits for different type of kernels, and be made more compact to accommodate domestic version of the unit. The exit pipe needs to change based on the microwave radiation it has to filter which is a function of the waveguide, popping chamber and funnel chamber. FIG. 11 provides the benefit of promoting a better flow of popcorn through the funnelling cap, the shape has been developed based on the trajectory of the popcorn popping out and is designed to reduce airflow requirements, FIG. 10 has been designed to use a deflection mechanism and a cavity which allows adaptation through incorporation of microwave permeable parts.

[0188] Further to the above is an optional enhancement which provides an output valve to remove debris (FIG. 12, numeral 1) and microwave permeable barrier to protect the tube from debris (FIG. 12, numeral 2)

[0189] The design has several benefits: [0190] 1. The design allows the energy to be concentrated in a relatively small area, ie highly efficient, greater uniformity in energy/wave distribution and able to penetrate multiple layers of kernels for variable and larger quantities at high speed. A domestic sized magnetron is sufficient for high speed production (although the default configuration is using a continuous wave, tight band, magnetron source for optimal results). [The design also allows scaling to larger units if required]. The location of the kernels is fixed (storage cup) and thus ensures that the system can be optimally tuned). [0191] 2. The design greatly improves the uniformity of energy affecting the corn kernels by the use of the microwave permeable `popping cup` (7) which ensures, in combination with the concentration and matching design, that all kernels are away from the metal casing surrounding the `popping cup` this placing them at higher energy level of the waves field/distribution. The `popping cup` is easily interchangeable and be replaced with ones optimized for specific requirements (e.g. `load`, directed airflow). The use of a `popping cup` as a fixed storage reduces variability in the system dynamics as compared with alternatives. [0192] 3. Popped kernels are not subject to ongoing microwave energy and non-uniform energy (the design does not use the closed chamber design of the prior art where popped kernels continue to be subjected to microwave energy (affecting their quality) as well as compounding, and undetermined effects, of resonant energy in the chamber). As soon as the popcorn is ready it is removed and thus avoiding overcooking, burning, and less susceptibility to variability in the quality of the kernels (e.g. percentage moisture) or variety of kernels. Non-resonance chamber design ensure more deterministic quality outcome. [0193] 4. By vacating the popcorn as soon as it pops the system is highly scalable, ie large magnetron units can be used so as to allow greater speed and/or quantities without change of design. In the `closed chamber` approaches this would mean that early popping popcorn kernels are subject to even greater amount of energy with increased overcooking, burning and even fire. [0194] 5. Vacating and exit of the popped popcorns provides a more consistent outcome which also assists with flavouring process (e.g. tighter band of results with regards to the residual moisture). [0195] 6. The design permits varying quantities of kernels in the popping chamber (ie different serving sizes, on an as required basis) as kernels which pop earlier exit the chamber, the optimized design allows the energy to penetrate multiple layers of kernels and the elimination of a closed-resonant chamber ensure uniformity. Packaged of cup based solution do not offer this flexibility. In combination with item 4 above, the design permits a system that can handle very small quantities to very large quantities to be produced on a `as-need`, `on-demand`, basis per customer. [0196] 7. The vacating of kernels as they pop allow a wide range of corn kernels varieties to be used with, dependent on configuration, with no tuning or minimal tuning/optimization required. It is able to accommodate other, non-corn, kernels and kernels which may have reduced moisture due to longer storage at the shop (see automatic load detection later) providing a robust solution vs. alternative timer based solutions. In essence a `free-flow` system is substantially self-regulating. [0197] 8. Removal of steam for improved popcorn quality via the open-flow design (not closed chamber) and the optional assistance of air flow. The freshness of popcorn with the residue moisture ensure good adherence with added flavouring at the end of the process (with minimal or no oil needed to be added). The `open flow` design allows great flexibility in incorporating system moisture tunning (e.g. warmed air, humidified or dry air, etc). Reducing moisture, post production, is common in popcorns as a way to improve `crunchiness`. The system provides an in-process ability to better manage it. [0198] 9. Nutritional benefits and flavour, fast popping, non-conduction and no `overcooking`: It is recognized that cooking food for extensive amount of time and/or partial burn, affects its nutritional value. [0199] 10. The use of microwave (directly working on the water molecules), the relatively high speed and reduced `overcooking` delivers optional nutritional experience as compared with other solutions. There is also no flavour or smell impact due to overcooking which also ensure it is a better quality product for post-production flavouring. [0200] 11. The system is better able to manage un-popped kernels or debris in packets or cup based solutions, which typically have un-popped kernels (vs. factory popped popcorn where these are removed (sieved out) as part of the post popping process). This reflects badly on the perceived quality of the product as well as posing risks to teeth and small children. The proposed invention addresses it in two ways: (1) by the uniform and high intensity of the way the energy is delivered eliminating or reducing the number of un-popped kernels (in combination with the consistency and control of the kernels (e.g. hopper temperature)), and (2) un-popped kernels maybe retained in the cup and maybe flushed out via pneumatic or electro-mechanical or mechanical means. [0201] 12. Another aspect of the design is that it supports automatic feed-back based on the popping cup emptying of all content (vs. closed chamber or solution using kernels popped in packets)--this can provide added safety, reliability and energy use as the system can be shut down, not based on a timer only but also based on `load`. As the cup empties the reflected energy would increase rapidly. This effect can be monitored via such mechanism as a sensor registering reflected microwave or via the thermal effects (increase) on the tube. Due to the faster popping, and the relatively linear nature of its performance (with regards to kernel numbers and popping time) and reduced overcooking, control over system sequence and shutdown may be achieved via a simple timer circuit at a relatively low cost and with a degree of safety protecting the reliability of the microwave tube (note that [0202] the kernels re confined to the `cup` (7) weight variations (for the cup) can also be used as a feedback system with regards to vacated, popped, kernels). [0203] 13. The design permits a relatively high degree of flexibility in the design of the `funnelling chamber` (9) and the matching `outflow pipe` (13) permitting interchangeable funnelling chamber and/or outflow pipes (e.g. at connection points 8 and 12) if there is a need to provide for different kernels (for example, extending to non-corn kernels which have different expansion ratio (e.g. `bounce height and space differences); different filtering pipes (e.g. shortening by narrowing), optimizing popcorn `bounce` to remove from unit, additional reflected energy, and so on. [0204] 14. The (optional) Kernel Storage Feeder 17 provides a mechanism for both feeding automatically the kernels based on a control circuitry. For example, the flow of raw kernels via the opening (19) into the intake pipe (10) may be controlled via an electrically controlled valve (or measure unit) (21). The storage units act to protect the quality of the kernels from deterioration (moisture, light, ambient temperature, mould, etc.) and incorporates a further optional thermal control unit (eg. which maybe provided in the form of cooling using piezoelectric elements with associated circuitry) which in combination with the cooking/popping times and the fact that kernels may be delivered directly, quickly into the popping chamber and timed relative to the start of the microwave energy, allows the manipulation the final product outcome, and its delivery time. [Note that the design may also accommodate a configuration which can regulate the temperature of the kernels, such as cool or pre-warm the kernels which may be beneficial for different type of grains or different product. This is redefining what is `popped popcorn`--thus while the focus in one embodiment is on cooling, technology e.g. piezoelectric or similar, can easily be configured to provide the opposite effect (heating or warming) for a other product categories]. [0205] 15. For example, keeping the kernels at a low temperature has been found to increase the delta of temperature increase when being exposed to cooking energy and this has been found to result in kernels, such as popcorn that is larger in size than would otherwise be the case if there was a reduced temperature delta. Lower temperature has the added benefit of increasing the storage life of the kernels, assist in maintaining correct moisture level (in combination with the `sealed` nature of the canister) and reduce other undesirable sources of deterioration (similar to keeping item in the fridge). [0206] 16. The system delivers fresh, natural, popcorn (no oil, flavouring). Flavouring maybe post production, as described later herein, however, greatly benefits from the unique speed of popping (within a very narrow time band) and the flow through. The kernels still retain traces of moisture and are still warm; they also flow in a very quick succession, this helps deliver post-production, automatic, flavouring with no adherence agent or minimal amount (e.g. oil) and with better distribution across the popcorn. This benefits health and quality. The delivery of flavours is achieved via `seasoning-pods (or similar) that distribute the content via vibration (shaking) into the container as the popcorn is delivered (synchronised), the process is able to be regulated either by time/quantity popped or through detection of first output (e.g. infrared, proximity or other sensors). The improved distribution of flavouring means that less flavouring is required which can be healthier (e.g. if high calories flavouring). The design uses a pod with very fine (eg finely grounded) flavouring powder with anticaking agent as required by the particular flavouring. Automatic post flavouring with homogeneity is another added benefit (optional) of the design. It is possible to use automated flavouring delivery systems instead of PODs for larger establishments which do not want to offer a large array of flavours. The post popping flavouring works equality for any other additives. For example, adding health additives or other supplements or a mix of all 3 (in one or more pods) or any combination thereof. [0207] 17. There is a relative elegance of design, operation and reliability which is important for `appliance` type devices which target domestic users. The design eliminates the need for a sealed chamber. There is also no need for oil, unless selected by a user.

Calculation of Microwave Energy for Popping Foodstuff

Introduction

[0208] The interaction of any material with microwave energy at 2450 MHz is governed by a number of factors, including but not necessarily limited to: [0209] a. Its dielectric properties (.epsilon.',.epsilon.'') where .epsilon.' is the dielectric constant and .epsilon.'' is the loss factor. The interaction may include absorption, transmission and reflection. The dielectric properties also provide data for calculating the conversion of microwave power to heat.

[0209] P=.sigma.E.sup.2=2.pi.f.epsilon..sub.0.epsilon.''E.sup.2V [1]

where [0210] P=microwave power (Watts), .sigma.=conductivity (Siemens/m), [0211] E=electric field (V/m), f=frequency (Hz) and .epsilon..sub.0=8.854 10.sup.-12 Farad/m [0212] V=volume (m.sup.3) of say popcorn. [0213] The dielectric properties are expressed as .epsilon.=.epsilon.'-j .epsilon.'' where j=(-1).sup.1/2

[0214] A material can be metallic, semiconductor or insulator. A metal reflects microwaves virtually totally and a non-metallic material such as popcorn reflects some and absorbs some microwaves. In microwave heating it is imperative to design and applicator with tuning for a material to be heated to absorb almost all microwaves, which impact on it. Reflection from the material accounts for a lot of unused power and poor efficiency. [0215] b. Its specific heat (C.sub.p) and density (.rho.)

[0216] The specific heat under constant pressure must be measured. So is its density and volume. [0217] c. The electric field E of the microwaves at the material must also be calculated. For instance the electric field inside a standard rectangular waveguide WR340 is given by:

[0217] E=[4P(.lamda..sub.g/.lamda..sub.0).(377/(ab)].sup.1/2 [2]

where [0218] P=microwave power (Watts), .lamda..sub.g=guide wavelength=174.369 mm, .lamda..sub.0=air wavelength=122.45 mm and (a,b) are the dimensions (m) of the waveguide cross section. The simple WR340 waveguide has a=0.043m and b=0.086m. [0219] When the electric field is focused by some means the electric field must also be calculated via simulation.

The Rate of Temperature Rise of Popcorn Under Power P

[0220] The equation for the temperature rate rise .DELTA.T/.DELTA.t for a popcorn having a specific heat C.sub.p =1.9 Calories/g/.degree. C. and density p=1.5 g/cm.sup.3 is given by:

.DELTA.T/.DELTA.t=0.556.times.10.sup.-10f .epsilon.''E.sup.2/(.rho. C.sub.p) [3]

[0221] All quantities in the equation are defined under 1(a) above. Once the dielectric properties of a material such as popcorn are measured together with its volume, specific heat and density, the rate of temperature rise can be calculated. It has been realised by the inventors that .DELTA.T/.DELTA.t is expected to be fast enough to make the popping complete in this deign and in under 15 seconds has been selected arbitrarily. Short or longer times may be selected depending on foodstuff being energised and amount of energy being delivered to the foodstuff.

[0222] From the above equation, .DELTA.T/.DELTA.t depends on several parameters such as f, E, loss factor .epsilon.'', density .rho. and specific heat Cp. The most important parameter to cause fast popping is the electric field E. To achieve a `large` E, one must design a resonant cavity, which delivers an E to 1000 to 10000 times the waveguide value. For a relatively simple cylindrical cavity, one can calculate the length of the cavity and through trial and error experimentation; one will arrive at the correct length and diameter.

[0223] But in this case of popping corn, the required cavity is not simple. As will be described later herein, the design has a dielectric corn holder, an open circuit at the other end whose diameter is such that relatively little microwaves are allowed to escape to keep the leakage to an acceptable level of 1 mW/cm2. But popped corn can be blown out. To compound this, the reflection from such a cavity must be as small as possible otherwise no microwave energy will enter the cavity to heat up the corn placed there. The resonant frequency must be relatively the same as the microwave frequency. Hence it has been determined that any microwave oven that does not deliver fixed power and constant frequency will not be suitable. One can modify the DPC--Digital Programmer Controller--[High Voltage Inverter Power Supply (U) controls output power by the signal from Digital Programmer Circuit (DPC). Power relay always stay on, but PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) signal controls microwave output power. It is desirable to avoid (as best possible) `cold spots`.

[0224] In the embodiment, around the 2.450 GHz is used. For relatively uniform heating, the microwave oven manufacturers make ovens without fixed frequency and power output so that they do not synchronise to produce an incoherent signal. In this invention, however, the more incoherent signal is achieved, the better the uniformity in heating.

Energy Balance Equation Calculation Approach

[0225] Using equation [4]: [0226] a. Microwave power=P(Watts) to produce a microwave energy in Joules E.sub.m=P.t

[0227] Energy absorbed by a popcorn having a mass m(g) and specific heat C.sub.p at temperature T.sub.i=18.degree. C. to rise to 100.degree. C. is given by:

E=C.sub.pm (100-18) Joules [0228] b. Power absorbed by a single popcorn in time t:

[0228] P=E/t=C.sub.pm (100-18)/t Watts (Joules/second) [0229] c. Heat of vapourisation (HV) of p(g) of water in a single popcorn seed is:

[0229] HV=p.2260 Joules supplied by the microwaves absorbed. [0230] d. The energy balance equation becomes [4]:

[0230] E.sub.m=P.t=C.sub.pm (100-18)+HV=C.sub.pm (100-18)+p.2260 [4]

C.sub.p=1.9

E.sub.m=P.t=1.9 m (100-18)+p.2260

[0231] From the above, and from experimental tests using a 800 Watts microwave oven, although embodiments contemplate 850-1200 W, if the microwave power is P=800 W, with a popcorn seed having the mass m=0.167 g and moisture p=0.023 g, find the time t(s) when all moisture becomes vapourised?

[0232] We have from equation [4]:

E.sub.m=1.9.times.0.167.times.82+0.023.times.2260=78.0 Joules [0233] t=E.sub.m/P=78.0/800=0.0975 second for one single popcorn seed. But reflection could be considerable and must be considered. So matching or tuning is required to help the popcorn absorb all or almost all microwave power.

[0234] The heat to achieve vapourisation dominates the calculation in equation [4]

[0235] In 3 seconds we can heat approximately 3/0.0975=30.7 popcorn seeds. Let's round it up to 30 popcorn seeds or about 5.0 g if there is total absorption and no reflection or other losses.

[0236] But not all 800 W of microwaves is absorbed by the 30 popcorn seeds because of reflection and non-total absorption. The popcorns must be tuned or matched to the microwave power for them to absorb all microwaves.

[0237] Thus, it seems possible to `pop` 30 popcorn seeds in 3 seconds using 800 W microwave oven.

[0238] In 15 seconds we may heat 15/0.0975=153.8 popcorns. Let's call it 153 popcorn seeds or 25.7 g if there is total absorption and no reflection or other losses.

Matching Power Into Popcorn

[0239] There are two ways, one is by manual tuning and the other is by automatic tuning.

[0240] Other considerations to complement matching is to use the parameters of popcorn and the electric field of the microwaves in the popcorn applicator: [0241] a. Dielectric properties the higher the loss factor the more absorption [0242] b. The electric field the higher the electric field the more absorption [0243] c. The frequency the higher the frequency the more absorption [0244] d. The moisture content the higher the moisture content the higher the absorption [0245] e. The overriding factor in the above calculation is the heat of vapourisation [0246] f. Popping may occur before vapourising all moisture in popcorn. In this case there will be less microwave power needed. The volume of vapour from 0.023 g of water can be as high as 0.04 litres or 40 cm.sup.3 assuming steam as an ideal gas. The volume of each popcorn seed=0.109 cm.sup.3. This means that the generated vapour can be as much as 367 times the volume of a popcorn seed volume, [0247] g. Assuming that a volume of steam of 200.times.0.109 cm.sup.3=21.8 cm.sup.3 is required to produce 9 atmospheres then the total power required is approximately thirty four (16.8) times less. This suggests that a smaller power will be sufficient to pop 5-6 g of popcorn. Experimental validation will confirm this deduction.

Calculation Using the Electric Field E

[0248] By using equations [1], [2], and [3] above to calculate the electric field E then the rate of temperature rise then the time for the popcorn to reach 100.degree. C., the then time for the microwaves to supply the heat of vapourisation for moisture to produce enough steam to pop the popcorn. These equation needs also the dielectric properties of popcorn (.epsilon.',.epsilon.''), its density .rho.=1.5 g/cm.sup.3 and specific heat C.sub.p=1.9 Joules/g/.degree. C.

[0249] The average dielectric properties of popcorn are measured at 2450 MHz to be:

.epsilon.'=dielectric constant =3.45 and

.epsilon.''=loss factor=1.06 [5]

[0250] The electric field from 800 W of microwaves is obtained by using equation [2]:

E=[4P(.lamda..sub.g/.lamda..sub.0).(377/(ab)].sup.1/2, where P=800, .lamda..sub.g=174.369, .lamda..sub.0=122.4 a=0.043 m and b=0.086 m

E=2.155.times.10.sup.+4 V/m

[0251] Using this electric field in equation [3] giving the rate of temperature rise:

.DELTA.T/.DELTA.t=0.556.times.10.sup.-10f .epsilon.''E.sup.2/(.rho. C.sub.p)

.DELTA.T/.DELTA.t=0.556.times.10.sup.-102.45.times.10.sup.91.06.times.(2- .155.times.10.sup.+4).sup.2/(1.5.times.10.sup.3.times.1.9)

.DELTA.T/.DELTA.t=2352.86.degree. C./s

For .DELTA.T=82=100-18 for one popcorn seed, what is the time .DELTA.t?

.DELTA.t=82/2352.86=0.03485 s=34.85 ms

[0252] Thus, if we have 3 seconds then the number of popcorn seeds=3/0.03485=86 seeds.

[0253] Thus, if we have 15 seconds then the number of popcorn seeds=15/0.0385=430 seeds.

[0254] Thus, if the target is 30 seeds then 800 W must be reduced to 30/86=0.349 or 279 W.

[0255] But the heat of vapourisation dominates the calculation and is considered much bigger. The moisture in each popcorn is approximately 0.023 g. To vapourise the moisture in 86 seeds or 0.023 g.times.86=1.978 g in 3 seconds the power required is 1.978.times.2260/3=1490 W. This means that we can do 86 seeds. All we have is 800 W so the number of popcorn seeds that can be vapourised is 86.times.800/1490=46 seeds which is in the same ballpark as the energy balance calculation. For 15 seconds time one can follow a similar calculation.

Notes:

[0256] The following have been measured: [0257] 1) Density of each popcorn=1.5 g/cm.sup.3 [0258] 2) Specific heat=1.9 j/g/0 C [0259] 3) Dielectric properties (averaged over six measurements)=3.

[0260] Additional information/general discussion regarding background calculation (the theoretical basis for the absorption structure of the popping machine) is now described. Maxwell summarises the behaviour of electromagnetic waves and propagation by introducing four important equations which have been used for designing and constructing a host of small and large scale structures for propagating, radiating and processing materials. Maxwell's equations are universal and govern the behaviour of static electromagnetics and electromagnetic wave propagation. A set of four equations derived from experimental work from Gauss, Biot and Savart, Ampere and Faraday (and many others). Maxwell's contribution is by combing all other works and introducing the most important displacement current that flows in a vacuum or a dielectric material. The four equations are often seen in differential notation which can be expressed in different 3D or 4D coordinates systems describing the relationship of the following four vector quantities: [0261] E electric field strength [Volt/meter]=[kg-m/sec.sup.3] [0262] D electric flux density [Coul/meter.sup.2]=[Amp-sec/m.sup.2]=.epsilon.E and .epsilon.=.epsilon..sub.0 .epsilon..sub.r [0263] H magnetic field strength [Amp/meter]=[Amp/m] [0264] B magnetic flux density [Weber/meter2] or [Tesla]=[kg/Amp-sect]=.mu.H and .mu.=.mu..sub.0.mu..sub.r

[0265] Each quantity is in general a function of 3D coordinates and time e.g. E=E(x,y,z,t)=E(r,.theta.,z,t)=etc. Two more scalar quantities which need to be included are: [0266] J electric current density [Amp/meter.sup.2] [0267] .rho..sub.v electric charge density [Coul/meter.sup.3]=[Amp-sec/m.sup.3]

[0268] The Maxwell's equations, Faraday's law, Ampere's law, Magnetic Gauss' law and Electric Gauss' law are (respectively)

.gradient. .times. E _ = - .differential. B _ .differential. t ##EQU00001## .gradient. .times. H _ = J _ + .differential. D _ .differential. t ##EQU00001.2## .gradient. B _ = 0 ##EQU00001.3## .gradient. D _ = .rho. v ##EQU00001.4##

where:

.epsilon..sub.0 .quadrature. 8.8541878.times.10.sup.-12 [F/m]

.mu..sub.0=4.pi..times.10.sup.-7 [H/m] (exact)

c = 1 .mu. 0 0 ##EQU00002## c=2.99792458.times.10.sup.8 [m/s]

[0269] PROPAGATION IN A RECTANGULAR WAVE GUIDE: Solving the Maxwell's equations for electromagnetic waves propagating in a rectangular waveguide, there are two modes the TE and the TM. TE stands for Transverse Electric and TM stands for Transverse Magnetic. These two modes can propagate because their electric and magnetic fields can satisfy the conducting rectangular boundary conditions. There is no TEM mode that can propagate in a rectangular waveguide because this mode does never satisfy the rectangular conducting boundary conditions. The solution of Maxwell's equations shows that for every rectangular waveguide there is a fundamental TE and TM mode. The waveguides are classified according to their dimensions and is given a designation according to the modes propagating. There are three waveguides that are used for microwaves at 2450 MHz or 2.45 GHz. These are WR284 used in USA, WR340 used in Australia and WR430 used in China. `284` in WR284 means 2.84'' the wide dimension of the rectangular waveguide and the corresponding narrow dimension is half i.e. 1.42''. Likewise `340` in WR340 means the wide dimension=3.40'' and the narrow dimension=1.70''. The TE10 mode is so called because the Transverse Electric field only exists in this mode of propagation. There is one half wavelength along the x axis and consequently has a designation 1 and no half wavelength along the y axis and has a designation zero ("0"). Hence the fundamental mode for WR340 is TE10. Field in a WR340 waveguide:

[0270] (note: image for illustrate only--not accurate representation) Guide wavelength in a WR340 waveguide is not the wavelength in free space or vacuum=c/f where c=velocity of light approximately 300.times.10.sup.6 m/s and f=frequency=2450.times.10.sup.6 Hz. So the wavelength in free space of microwaves at 2450 MHz is 122.45 mm. The guide wavelength for a microwave propagating inside a WR340 waveguide is calculated from:

.lamda. guide = .lamda. freespace 1 - ( .lamda. freespace .lamda. cuttoff ) 2 ##EQU00003## .lamda. guide = c f .times. 1 1 - ( c 2 a f ) 2 ##EQU00003.2##

[0271] Where c in mm/s and f in Hz are defined before, `a` is the wide dimension and equal 3.4'' or 86.36 mm. The guide wavelength is calculated to be 173.62 mm which is bigger than 122.45 mm. Each waveguide can only propagate a fixed band of frequency. If the wavelength is bigger than the cutoff wavelength then if will not propagate. The specifications of WR340 list the frequencies that will propagate inside it. Any frequency below the band will not propagate without a heavy loss or not propagate at all.

[0272] PROPAGATION IN A CIRCULAR WAVEGUIDE. It has been shown that a circular tube can also support the propagation of TE and TM electromagnetic waves. Each mode is designated according to the radius or diameter of the circular waveguide. For 2450 MHz, the TE.sub.11 mode is fundamental. The guide wavelength is calculated in a similar way to the rectangular waveguide. The cut off wavelength is obtained from solving the Bessel's function governing the propagation inside the circular waveguide.

[0273] The lower cutoff frequency (or wavelength) for a particular TE mode in circular waveguide is determined by the following equation:

.lamda. c , mn = 2 .pi. r p m n ' ##EQU00004##

where p'mn is: it is the solution of the Bessel function representing the circular waveguide.

TABLE-US-00001 m p'.sub.m1 p'.sub.m2 p'.sub.m3 0 3.832 7.016 10.174 1 1.841 5.331 8.536 2 3.054 6.706 9.970

[0274] For TE.sub.11 mode m=1 and p'.sub.11=1.841 to be used in the cutoff wavelength expression. Then it is used in the expression for the guide wavelength to calculate it. For the TE.sub.11 its field distribution is shown below:

[0275] The TE.sub.10 in a rectangular waveguide can be transformed into the TE.sub.11 in a circular waveguide for the electromagnetic waves to propagate seamlessly when the two waveguides are joined by a rectangular to circular adaptor. The adaptor is constructed by lofting the rectangular waveguide cross section to the circular waveguide cross section. The length of lofting is one rectangular waveguide guide wavelength. This has been done in the design of the microwave corn popping machine.

[0276] Complex Cylindrical Resonant Cavity

[0277] The temperature rise .DELTA.T/.DELTA.t under microwave heating is given elsewhere in the document (`power calculations`).

.DELTA.T/.DELTA.t=0.556.times.10.sup.-10f .epsilon.''E.sup.2/(.rho. C.sub.p)

[0278] .DELTA.T/.DELTA.t is expected to be fast enough to make the popping complete under 15 seconds. From the above equation, .DELTA.T/.DELTA.t depends on several parameters such as f, E, loss factor .epsilon.'', density .rho. and specific heat Cp. The most important parameter to cause fast popping is the electric field E. To achieve a big E, one must design a resonant cavity, which delivers an E to 10.sup.3 to 10.sup.4 times the waveguide value. For a simple cylindrical cavity, one can calculate the length of the cavity and through trial and error experimentation; one will arrive at the correct length and diameter.

[0279] But in this case of popping corn, the required cavity is not simple. It has a dielectric corn holder, an open circuit at the other end whose diameter is such that no microwaves are allowed to escape to keep the leakage to an acceptable level of 1 mW/cm.sup.2. But popped corn can be blown out. To compound the matter, the reflection from such a cavity must be as small as possible otherwise no microwave energy will enter the cavity to heat up the corn placed there. So the popping machine will not work.

[0280] The resonant frequency must be the same as the microwave frequency. Hence any microwave oven that does not deliver fixed power and constant frequency will not be suitable (Note: i.e. it will not provide optimal conditions--however, it may be desirable due a variety of reasons (e.g. cost) to provide a suboptimal configuration to address specific customers requirements--e.g. domestic market). One can modify the DPC to keep the frequency fixed and the output power constant. For uniform heating the microwave oven manufacturers always make ovens without fixed frequency and power output so that they do not synchronise to produce an incoherent signal. The more incoherent signal is achieved the better the uniformity in heating. This is unlike the microwave equipment for communication which requires coherency in every way possible to achieve a high fidelity communication.

[0281] The solution for the cavity is by solving the Maxwell's equations. The symmetrical design achieves a high magnitude E, low reflection and low leakage.

[0282] While the design of the Popping system has been focused on Microwave, much of the design innovation is transferrable to other a implementation using other EM Wave frequencies (e.g. the concept of free-flow, optimized chamber, etc)--although the design will need to be substantially re-optimized.

Popping Machine Storage Cup & Airflow

[0283] As previously described the storage cup holding the raw kernels (FIG. 1--(7) incorporates holes at the base (FIG. 1--(5)) in order to assist in propelling the popped kernels, the cleaning process and possibly affecting temperature. The number of arrangement of these holes can be optimized for different requirement (e.g. kernels type, pneumatic subsystem design, etc--e.g. FIGS. 13A and 13B demonstrate different number and arrangement of holes--e.g. FIG. 13B--(915)). The system is able to be provided with different replacement cups which are field replaceable.

[0284] The storage cup can also accommodate other airflow arrangement as well as modification to the `load` `seen` by the microwave (in order to reduce reflection as the kernels all vacate the storage cup after popping). FIG. 30 provide an example of different airflow arrangements. The cups marked 3001, 3003 and 3005 are the same embodiment with 3001 and 3002 showing different perspectives and 3005 providing and a wireframe view of the internal structure. Similarly the cups shown by 3007, 3010 and 3013 provide similar structure with the only change the additional of holes at the base of the cup. When popcorn kernels pop the force of the expansion/explosion would typically force them well above the height of the cup. By directing the airflow through the walls of the storage cup ((3002/3006, 3008/3014) the airflow is directed to impact only the popped kernels--providing maximum air pressure to ensure they exit the system. It is also possible to construct other configurations--e.g. cup 3017 which illustrates one pipe which has several opening with the opening angled to provide directionality for the popcorn kernel flow.

[0285] As covered earlier it is possible for be optimally constructed with different material characteristics (including composites) which deliver different effective `load` (vs, eg. Teflon.RTM. transparency). It is possible to incorporate into the air pipes (e.g. 3006) an insert of coating which will provide additional load. The benefits of this approach is that airflow servers to remove some of the heat--using it to dry the popped kernels as it pushes them out, as well as cool down the `load` material.

[0286] The above illustrates some examples of the airflow design/pneumatic system. In some configuration the pneumatic system will be constructed as to provide different airflow pressures/speed and direction to different area or in different cycles (e.g. popping cycle vs. cleaning cycle; continuous popping mode vs. discrete popping mode, etc),

Additional Information and Calculations Relating to the Popcorn Maker Design:

[0287] In the designing the Microwave Popcorn Maker--experimentation has demonstrated that the movement as a result of the rapid expansion of popcorn (`popping`) results typically exceeds 150 mm. As a result, providing for a safety margin, the design of the raw popcorn cup holder (FIG. 1--(7), FIG. 30) and the associated, the Cap/Microwave suppression subsystem (FIG. 1--(9)) and pneumatic design have been designed around a 130 mm clearance for the popcorn. While the shape of the top cap directing (deflecting) the popped kernels towards capture aperture of the exit pipe (9) (901, 902 and 903) is designed to assist the flow, due to the randomness, system airflow configurations such as (3002) serve to further assist the movement of the popcorn towards the exit pipe as well as eliminate popped kernels which would otherwise may fall back into the cup/popping chamber (7). The design of the subsystem responsible for the flow of the popped kernels out is based on several requirements such as--(A) specular reflection equation (i.e. equal angle of incidence to angle of reflection), (B) 3D deflection into the cross sectional area of the capture aperture of the exit pipe (13), (C). The diameter of the pipe must be large enough to clear all simultaneously popped corn (note that the diameter is also required to prevent microwave leakage).

Tuning

[0288] A further optimisation of the device may be provided by a means of manually or automatically tuning the wave guide subsystem. Using tuning stubs or tuning elements.

[0289] Due to the relatively fast popping cycle and the relatively quick shift from one complete load state to full load (due to none or almost no kernels in the cup) the design of the optimizing tuning is highly simplified and would typically require a single element (additional tuning stub or tuning elements optional). As many as is required may be used, the problem is that most (if not all) systems are dynamic, starting with one load of kernels and as the kernels pop and fly out of the cup, the load changes and reflections increase so ideally an auto tune function may be used, basically the auto tuner pushes these tunning elements in and out (different height) in the wave guide based on a microwave sensor. In the case of an auto tuner, similar to the above, the design can be cost effective with a simple stepper motor driving the tuning blade/s. For most purposes a single blade would be sufficient. The auto tuner motor can be either programmed based on pre-determined time cycle for each load size of popcorn (as the speed of popping is very stable) OR by sensing the level of reflections.

[0290] Different storage cup designs are able to reduce the level of tunning which may be required for different configuration (and change in volume due to removal of popped kernels) through the use of different material composites (providing different loads). For example FIG. 30 illustrates storage cup designs which incorporate air pipes to deliver optimized airflow configurations. These air channels can be coated with material which delivers additional `load` with the excess heat being vacated by the airflow (further assisting the drying process of the popped kernels) and additional regulation control.

Flavouring

[0291] The present invention contemplates flavouring in association with POD and/or the popping machine.

Flavouring Using POD

[0292] With reference to flavouring in association with a POD, post `popping` flavouring maybe selected by the user. The flavouring maybe provided by the kernel popping maker, or as an added `capsule` which maybe introduced to the popped kernels external of the maker. In another form, the capsule may be provided in a form which maybe applied to already sold food products in packages, such a popcorn, chips or any other packaged food product.

[0293] The flavouring contemplated within the scope of the invention maybe a powder, liquid or other fluid form, including gas and/or any combination of these. The `flavouring` may also comprise or be supplements (e.g. nutrition, health and/or other supplement), medicine, seasoning/flavouring, and any other food additive or flavouring.

Flavouring Using the Popcorn Maker

[0294] With reference to FIG. 2A (and 2B), one aspect of the design revolves around the production of popcorn (no additive) in a state and timing which makes it possible to add flavouring, if desired later. Popcorn has been found to provide a medium that can accept many flavours/seasoning. Flavouring/seasoning/supplements in the form of pods as herein disclosed may be selected by the customer or based on customer demand. By using pods, the customer has the ability to select any one, multiple pods for stronger flavour or any combination thereof to give numerous possible flavours and at a customer selected flavour strength (Note: 2B (hopper) may accommodate other foodstuff (not only popcorn) suitable for depositing and/or layering into a container (e.g. nuts, cereals, etc.). Similarly the flavouring design A2 may be adaptable to other foodstuff provided it is delivered in a similar manner)

[0295] In one form, one or more pods (201) and (202) (FIG. 2A) or multiple units (for mixing flavour, for higher flavour strength (e.g. `double shot`) or for larger quantities) maybe inserted into a receptor (204) above the container where the popcorn is dropped. The pods may have on one side holes which allow the flavouring/seasoning/supplements to `escape` when shaken. FIG. 3 provides an illustration of the arrangement of holes according to embodiments of the present invention (303, 306). The holes maybe covered by a removable sticker [or punctured automatically, in the appropriate location, by the dispensing control mechanism (not shown)]. FIG. 2A (and 2B) also illustrates one type of mount in which Pods are inserted into the tubes. In an alternative (not shown), the Pods maybe held on one side using a `mounting pin` proximate the foodstuff and then `shaken` to enable flavouring to exit the pod onto the foodstuff. In such an embodiment, any suitable mounting or engagement mechanism is contemplated within the scope of the present invention.

[0296] In FIG. 2A, the receptor (204) has a vibration mechanism/s (204). Since the above invention provides a very narrow time band to pop and is almost linear with quantities of kernels, the vibration can be triggered either by pre-determined time delay based on the start time of the popping cycle OR via use of sensor to detect the first popcorn falling into the bag/container (and rate of flow).

[0297] Description of FIG. 2A: FIG. 2A illustrates the concept of flavouring of the foodstuff as it exits the pipe of the microwave popcorn popper (i.e. popcorn) or the automatic in-sync-hopper (FIG. 2B) which can be popcorn or other foodstuff. The popcorn exits the pipe (206) and is captured by the serving cup (205). The flavouring pods (201, 202) operate either in alternate step--sync (i.e. set quantity drops into the container (205) and then the pods flavours the popcorn and the process repeats itself) or in sync as the popcorn exits the pipe (206) or any other combination of the two. The consumer selects a one or more flavouring pods (items 201, 202) to be inserted into a pod holder (item 204)--note for illustration simplicity only 4 pods are shown, however, as per block diagram (item 210) the system can accommodate a large number of units which can be unique or multiples--e.g. items (211), (212), (213) and (214) represent different pods--with the same pattern having the same content. The simplify access to installing and removing the pods--the `loading carriage` for the pods (item 204+2077) is able to rotate (item 209) similar to a carousel. As the popcorn flows out, the system induces vibration or movement (item 203) which causes the pods to release their content in relatively controlled fashion due to design of the pods, the particular range of movement (e.g. `tapping` like--example--item (208) piston design) the angle of the pods etc. The pattern and timing of the movement may be a function of many items (flow, type of foodstuff, type & number of pods, etc). By layering the flavours/additives and given the constraint area the system provides good distribution of flavours without mixing (e.g. is able to use finer additives while reducing dispersal into the air) as well as eliminate the damage which mixing can cause to `fragile` foodstuff (eg. Butterfly popcorn shape). Item (215) demonstrates the possibility of incorporating a feeding pipe for specific liquid additives (typically higher volume or requiring heating (e.g. melted chocolate)). The implementation of the above concept is achieved by various designed which are optimized--e.g cost and simplicity. Locating the pods in a movable ring which rotates around the pipe, while a second (fixed) ring which presses against the pod induces several movements (e.g rotate, tap) via deformities on the ring. FIG. 32 illustrates the area of movement--POD (3201) and (3202) are the same POD viewed at different angles. The ring structure in the centre (3203) is used to enable (via friction, cog structure, etc) rotation of the pod around its own axis (3205) which results in opening for the flavour to exit (3205) varying the rate of flow as well as helping to move and `uncake` the content. The outer ring (3204) is used to affect different motions by placing it on a rotation part (or inducing it to rotate) around the popcorn exit pipe--were the part has deformation which cause (3204) to lift, move forward, back and so on--so as to provide the same tapping function as per FIGS. 2A and 2B. The entire substructure might rotate around the exit pipe to further improve on distribution on content during the layering process.

[0298] In prior art, typically `seasoning shakers`, such as those provided to dining patrons at a restaurant, have sieve like pattern distributed at the base (where the particles/seasoning) exit. (Note that even `salt & pepper shakers`, while having few holes, are designed with the holes near the centre of the shaker). The aim is for a vertical up and down movement to release the seasoning.

[0299] In embodiments of the present invention, for example FIG. 3, the pod (301 and 304) have a hole or holes (303) and (306) positioned substantially to one side of the pod (305 and 302 are sealed sections). The pod is designed to be mounted in and angle to the where the popcorn flows out form the exit pipe of the popcorn maker. The pattern of movement is akin to tapping (swinging a few degrees in an arc (307)), with a second (optional) movement of the pod across its length (308).

[0300] This results in a more controlled release of seasoning, the action is less violent, the dispersal is much smaller and the direction is towards the location where the popcorn are flowing out of the exit pipe (after popping in the free flow system).

[0301] In one embodiment, the flavouring, additives (seasoning, supplements, etc) added using the above embodiment maybe in the form of a relatively fine powder. The fine power has been found to provide better distribution and adhesion. The use of fine powder can be made in combination with pods similar in design to `seasoning shakers`. Further changes can be made to the pod design to accommodate large holes for some seasoning mixes which incorporate some larger particles (e.g. chives, or herbs).

[0302] Regarding FIG. 2B, foodstuff may be provided in a hopper, and with the aid of a flow control, the foodstuff may be provided to a customer (container, for example) [Note the hopper can optionally be in-line with microwave popper to buffer flow]. Flavouring may be added also, with one or more flavouring pods (223) being used. In this way, the flavouring is provided `in-flow` as the foodstuff transits from the hopper to the container.

[0303] The vibration intensity and time may be adjusted to: [0304] a. the amount/time of popcorn being produced and/or [0305] b. to the amount of pods inserted into the receptor and/or [0306] c. to a customers requirements or selection and/or [0307] d. a predetermined program setting.

[0308] The source of vibration (220) maybe controlled by the operation of the popcorn popping device (221). More then one vibrating sources may be used in order to provide more complex (or stronger) vibrating pattern, as well as or in combination with specific vibration movement/pattern.

[0309] As described above the residual moisture content and temperature provides for sufficient adhesion for many flavouring seasoning, with options to control the residual moisture (with adhesion agent as an option for some flavouring--e.g. oil).

[0310] Description of FIG. 2B: (216)--An automatic dispensing and flavouring hopper system which provides customers selected choice of favours/additives (insert-able flavour pods (223)). The system (method) delivers good level of flavour distribution without the need for mixing. This is achieved by regulating the flow of foodstuff (via flow control--218) into small discrete quantities (typically approximating single layers) and synching it with the process of flavouring (flavour release control--220). With the relatively small (e.g. `single customer serve"), controlled, positioning of the foodstuff and the interleaving of layering (foodsuff and flavours) the effect is to provide reasonably good distribution without mixing (which also limits the amount of flavouring particles released into the air and thus reduces unwanted smells permeating the commercial space).

[0311] The system is able to operate as a standalone (manually `fed` with foodstuff such as popcorn) or inline with the popcorn microwave maker or other production units. (217) is the storage (hopper) area for storing ready-made foodstuff (e.g. popcorn). (218) is the flow control subsystem which controls the flow of foodstuff out from the hopper and (220) is the control mechanism for the automatic dispensing of flavours--these operate in sync via an independent control subsystem (219) & (221) illustrate communication/control link) which may be integrate into the production unit as well (e.g. microwave popcorn popper). (223) is an example of a customer selectable flavouring pod--the unit can accommodate a large number of different pods to provide a huge variety of outcomes. (222) refers to the subsystem/mechanism that affects the dispensing of pods (e.g. vibration motor, a motor for rotating pods around the pipe (or self spin) to provide better uniform dispersal of flavours.

[0312] FIG. 3 provides an example of such a pod and with the `axis` for the arc movement ((307) for both example of pods) at the front, the degrees of arc movement are relatively small, providing something similar to a `tapping like event`, and the line (308) shows the optional back and forth movement. (301) and (304) are two examples of pods design. The hole/holes providing for the flow of the additive (seasoning, supplement) out are represented by the small opening (303) and (306). The opening is much larger than typical shaker holes providing for easier flow. The remainder of the pod is sealed by foil or other means (302 and 305). The movements Arc (`tapping effect`) is designated by (307) and/or the optional, forward-back movement across the length of the pod is designated by (308). Relative to the popcorn maker, the Pods are positioned is a slight forward angle to the output of the popcorn from the exit pipe. This is demonstrated in FIG. 4--(401)=Exit pipe for popcorn, (402)=pod, (403) & (404) are the same movements are (307) and (308) in FIG. 3, (405) is the `bag` (container) for the popcorn. It is possible that the mechanism holding the pods will be attached to the pipe (401) [example shown in FIGS. 2A and 2B--(204) and (222)]. The PODs are designed to have be positioned relatively close to the opening (exit pipe) of the Popcorn maker. In order to deliver the quantity require within the short time, and to accommodate multiple units and provide better control the PODs are elongated design, ie surface area towards the exit pipe is much smaller relative to the length. (Note: as described earlier another embodiment of the movement of the PODs is to rotate them and induce tapping motion by deformation in the rotating mechanism).

[0313] In another embodiment, and with reference to FIG. 14, the pod(s) (1402, 1407, 1408, 1409) maybe placed into the bag (1404) or cup into which the popcorn is delivered `popped`, and then shaken by the customer (or machine) to disperse the flavouring inside the pods substantially throughout the contents of the bag or cup. In this regard, a sealing mechanism (or inherent feature of the bag, e.g. Zip bag (1401)) maybe used into which the popped corn flows). FIG. 14 illustrates a optional bag (1410) with an internal construction which improves on the rotation/movement of the content & pods--by rounding the corners (e.g. using a heat seal process)--to avoid foodstuff or pods getting partially caught by the corners. A vibration device with optimized vibration frequencies and pattern may assist in improving flow (1403). The pods are constructed for improved dispensing of flavours--e.g. 1408 and 1409 design. The size is optimised to enhance their ability to move more easily in the bag. 1406 is an example of the peel-off label (release paper) to on both sides of the pod (1405) exposing the holes (1407).

[0314] The popcorn device may further include automatic bag delivery and sealing (via a roll) and with the addition of either automatic pod loading or seasoning feeding tube (not shown).

[0315] The approach for post product flavouring provides a way to deliver unique offering to each customer. It also provides the retailer with a wider offering and the customer with greater selection. The nature of the above solution and the system as a whole lends itself both to self-serve and domestic use. It is essentially a personalised snack solution.

[0316] A suggested process of flavouring according to an aspect of invention is as follows--customer selects one or more flavouring pods (or if larger quantity of popcorn produced the operator might add additional pods), these are then loaded to the `mounting unit` of the popcorn device after the stickers covering the holes are removed [or automatically punctured]. As the popcorn beings to flow out of the `output pipe` the vibration motor/s are operated based on a predefined pattern (e.g. taking account of the quantity of popcorn being produced per serve). The flavouring mixes with the popcorn and adheres to the surface of the popcorn (moisture). An optional, special purpose, adhering agent capsule is envisaged for those flavouring/seasoning requiring better adherence to the surface of the popcorn.

[0317] An automated system feeding pods and adherence agents is also possible.

Pod(s)

[0318] As discussed previously consumers increasingly demand greater variation in the pre-packaged food to satisfy a wide range of dietary requirements (flavours, allergies (e.g. nuts, gluten), health supplements (e.g. whey), etc., even vary by time of `meal` (e.g. at breakfast vs lunch time). It is considered not possible to address, the, almost infinite range of requirements at manufacturing and thus the present invention is directed to adding the flavours post product and/or the point of sale to the consumer (based on their demands at the time). Consumers are increasingly concerned with food quality and safety, with significant groups in society having extreme `control` requirements due to issue such as religious or lifestyle beliefs (e.g. halal, vegan), food sensitivities & allergies (e.g. nut allergies), athletes, etc. `Quality` is also extended to both the relative homogeneity of the additive distribution (as close as possible to factory made homogeneity) as well as the quality of the experience. It must be simple and convenient for the consumer to make use of (e.g. can be done virtually `on the go`, no mess, etc.) and does not have impact negatively on the seller (e.g. littering).

[0319] Current prior art approaches, due their inherent limitations, have until now focused typically on delivering flavours or seasoning with a highly limited range. They typically fall into one of the following broad categories: (1) Flavouring satchels (e.g. seasoning satchels, sugar packets); (2) Condiment packets (e.g. ketchup squeeze packs); (3) Shakers (e.g. Salt & Pepper shakers); or (4) Dispensers (e.g. mustard, butter for popcorn and other foodstuff).

[0320] All of these prior art approaches require that the snack bag (or container) be open in order to add the flavour into the bag and the flavouring `poured` over the top of the pre-packaged food, making the process of handling more difficult for the consumer, homogeneity of distribution very unlikely (or impossible for some snack packages) and require immediate consumption (for best quality experience) as the food is exposed to atmosphere (moisture, oxygen, contaminants, etc.) and thus the process of more rapid deterioration starts occurring. These approaches have also limitation with regards to certain container types due their shape and available, internal, space. There are numerous other deficiencies depending on the particular category above for example, dispensers could not possibly cater for such a variety of requirements simply through physical space requirements alone (apart from issues such as variability in demand in their product deterioration at the store), satchels result in disproportional littering as once the user pours the material in they tend to discard them (and experience evident in the UK from satchel offering for popcorn stopped due to littering), and so on.

[0321] The proposed invention takes a different approach. The pod in one embodiment does not necessarily need to be open to the general atmosphere which ensures that the content is not exposed to outside atmosphere permitting delayed consumption with no substantial deterioration of quality (in fact with some additives it is beneficial to delay consumption to allow the food to absorb some of the flavouring and fragrance). Since the bag/container remains sealed there is no risk of the user (or the surrounds) being accidentally covered by the flavouring and thus a far greater range of movements (e.g. 360 degrees) and more vigorous shaking can be used, all ensuring that the flavouring is far better distributed through the food. Since many packaging employ a modified atmosphere with additional volume for protecting the brittle snacks (and marketing purpose) the added space also greatly assists in improving the distribution. In order to improve the distribution and reduce the quantity of flavouring used (e.g. for diet purpose, too much fibre concentration, etc) and as certain type of foods (due to size, shape or tightness of fit, e.g. butterfly popcorn, chips, etc) are more difficult to distribute around; it is preferred that that the flavour (additive) be grounded to a very fine powder. While the use of fine powder would make the current solution a very messy affair, this is no issue with the proposed innovation as it is sealed. The invention (POD) achieves this by creating a channel between the content of the POD and the content of the bag/container with a seal around the channel which substantially limits any flows to or from the outside atmosphere. It is important to note that the POD can attach to any pierce-able area and is not dependent on a pre-existing opening in any bag/container it attaches to making it totally generic in nature.

[0322] As the flavouring pod remains attached to the bag the issue of discarding the flavouring packets is eliminated with the consumer able to discard it with the packet after consumption (more convenient and reduced litter).

[0323] By introducing the content of the pod into the bag (or container) while severely restricting the escape of any content particles into the surrounding atmosphere (reducing unwanted smells) and it is possible to use finer particles, which further assist with delivering better distribution.

[0324] An important benefit of the invention is the likely improvement to user experience with regards to taste experience. Our sense of taste is impact to a large extent by our sense of smell. The method of distribution describes above delivers a `flavour burst` when the consumer actually rips open the bag to consume the content. The concentrated nature and its impact are likely to assist in improving the taste experience. The ability to use finer particles (as per above) further assists in creating this `flavour burst` experience though greater impact on our sense of smell.

[0325] Other benefits include such element as the convenience to the consumer as they do not need to juggle open containers and open seasoning packets (imagine adding multiple packets; or trying to use shakers without dispersal into the air), the pods can be placed at the best location for distribution or convenience (e.g. at the centre of the bag/container, ie not just the top), there is no risk of the container spilling over or tearing, the ability of the pods to provided added benefits (e.g. ring for finger holding, hook for belts or bike, etc.). The POD also offers the ability to limit the `speed` of flow from the flavours pod to the bag/container, through user control, by limiting the distance and extent of piercing making it more suitable to address liquid dispersal in the bag (e.g. olive oil) as dispersal is the consumer mechanical movement of the bag ensure that the liquid is dispersed on the different bits of the food (moving around as a result of the mechanical movement) vs being soaked by the top layers in the current solutions. The design of the piercing element is able to be modified to enhance or restrict flow of content by tailoring to the specific content (e.g. size, number of blades, shape of blades, etc.) The benefits of better distribution, flow control and fine powder extend the available flavours (additives) which can be practically provided to the consumer. The ability to insert multiple pods and then use rigorous mechanical movements to mix also ensures a wider range of complementary additives (without needing super large, unique pod combinations which is not economic). Further detail and description will be provided herein.

[0326] In accordance with one embodiment, by eliminating the need to open the bag/container (as commonly practiced) the design permits different ways to deliver products (e.g. school's cafeteria can pre-add the pods without food safety compromised, marinades can be added to meat packets long before sale, etc.) and a far larger adaptability to different products (e.g. additives where current satchels/dispenser would be largely impractical due to such limitations as volume available, etc).

[0327] A further innovation is the pod (applicator) with `capsule` which provides similar benefits as above, however, provides the ability to deliver the dispersal flavouring deep, across, the some packets which has benefits for specific food products. (it is also able to deliver non-additive objects) due to the use of an internal capsule within the pod and dispensed into the foodstuff (FIG. 8).

[0328] The pods also are able to be used with existing (other vendors), popped popcorns (and other foodstuff--eg. Chips), as a way to add favouring to exiting bags/containers. Most `mass produced popcorn already has some oil content, thus the powder is able to adhere to the surface of the popcorn. The invention provides a way to insert the pods into an existing bag and seal it (e.g. with thermal seal), or to deliver the flavouring and other pods contents into the bag containing food product. The solution is adaptable to home use and can be used with solution such as zip lock bags (Note: popcorn is provided by way of example. The POD is designed to suit a wide variety of foodstuff and the reference, for example, to oil would be applicable to many snacks bags, e.g. chips).

[0329] The embodiment discussed provides the ability to add seasoning to existing (popped at the factory) popcorn and other foodstuff bags, however, without substantially affecting the internal atmosphere of the bag (not breaching in any substantial way the internal atmosphere). The ability to provide a limited number of types of pods for use with a device and for use in pre-packaged food greatly reduces the costs of stocking for the customer facing establishment.

[0330] The following provides one embodiment of a pod in accordance with one aspect of the present invention. Its construction is very similar to a coffee capsule with a cup shaped receptacle formed from a compressible plastic (or other suitable material) which contains flavouring or other substances, such as the flavour powder, liquid or gas or any combination thereof. Within the receptacle and attached to the base is a cruciform piercing element (or other blade arrangements) and covering the open aperture of the cup is a foil sealing film providing a suitable barrier for foodstuff. Around the foil covered opening is a disc shaped flange which is covered with adhesive file (e.g. pressure sensitive adhesive, dual sided adhesive foam, etc) and covering that is a release paper with a pull tab.

[0331] First the release paper is removed via the pull tab, (see FIG. 15A--(1502) as an example) then the adhesive disc (1504) is pressed onto the centre portion of the sealed popcorn packet (not shown). Next the base of the receptacle is pressed forcing the piercing element (1507) through the foil seal (1505) and also through the film wall of the popcorn packet (see for example FIGS. 5E-2, 18 and 21). The cruciform arms then tear the foil and film wall of the popcorn packet and the user continues the pressing action it forces the popcorn flavour powder through the torn aperture which may additionally tear the film wall of the popcorn packet opening up the aperture (Note: `popcorn packet` may be a `foodstuff packet`).

[0332] The popcorn/foodstuff packet is then turned around a few time and shaken by the user to distribute the flavour and then opened and eaten. Since the contents are protected against outside air it does not have to be eaten immediately as the bag (for all intent and purposes') has substantially retained its `sealed` benefits, so no accelerated deterioration, no outside moisture gone in, etc.

[0333] The FIGS. 5A, 5B, 5C, 5D, 5E, 5E2, 5F, 5G, 6 and 22 show an illustration of one embodiment. With reference to FIG. 5A--a pod (501) containing seasoning or supplements (502) and which has a surface area which has a sticky surface (on the surface of 503--adhesive sandwiched between (503) and (504) and which adheres to the container to which the flavouring is to be applied, such as a snack bag, and a peel-able label (504) which reveals the sticky surface (glue).

[0334] FIG. 5B, as described in the overview the consumer would need to apply pressure the pod, the pressure is to ensure good adherence to the bag (not shown), initiating the puncturing of both the foil seal (511) as well as the snack bag and assisting the seasoning to vacate the bag. This figure shows one approach to ensure the pod is compressible, and preferably, but not essentially, returns back to its original state (for retracting the puncturing unit). FIG. 5B (506) shows areas where the layer of pod material is very thin or is made up of an appropriate material which is inserted to the production mould prior to the pod material. This allows the pod to be pressed and return back to its original state. FIG. 5B (511) shows the foil area which is protected the seasoning. FIG. 5B--(510) shows the area which adheres to the bag, it has sticky material on it. FIG. 5B--(508) shows the peel-off label to expose the sticky material and FIG. 5B (509) a small tab (which is part of the sticker) to assist the consumer to peel-off the sticker.

[0335] FIGS. 5C and 5D show an illustration of one embodiment of pod surface adapted to be punctured by the piercing element (513/515, 517/516).

[0336] FIG. 5E--shows the pod attached to the surface of the snack bag (FIG. 5E 519), the direction of flow of seasoning out of the bag and introduces the optional `holding ring` FIG. 5E (522) described herein.

[0337] FIG. 5E-2 also illustrates the pod attached to a bag (538), (as does FIG. 22) with the piercing element extending through the wall of the bag (539) and with flavouring then exiting the Pod into the bag of foodstuff (540). FIG. 5E-2 illustrates the movement of the piercing element (for piercing and opening the bag to allow the content to flow in). The pod shows a collapsible raised section (542) as well as the ring like section (527, 528, 530, 532, 534, 536) which, on its underside, the adhesive is located and which is used to secure the pod to the bag (or container). As the consumer presses on the top of the pod (542) it starts to collapse and move forward the internal piercing element (529) show through a cut out (for illustration only). As more pressure is applied the piercing element moves downwards--first piercing the barrier foil of the pod and later the bag barrier material. The FIGS. 529, 531, 533, 535, 537 (same as 539) illustrate this movement. The raised section (542) is designed to accommodate a wide variety of thumb (or finger) sized--although collapsible designs are possible (see other figures).

[0338] FIG. 5F, further demonstrates the concept of the `finger ring` (524) used to attached the bag to some device or hold it securely with a single finger. [Note that the `ring` is only an example, other offerings are possible, e.g. hook, magnet, etc].

[0339] FIG. 5G and FIG. 6 illustrate the adaptability of the POD design (5A-5F) to be modified to accommodate a partial depressing of the pod to allow an extended piercing element (605) to pierce the seal of the pod and to enable the pod to be used in a popcorn maker, or to accommodate further depression for use with existing snack food bags.

[0340] With reference to FIG. 5H, instead of the adhesive region being confined to a narrow band around the circumference of the POD surface area (the face area which would be attached to the bag or container surface), a large area of the surface of the POD could be covered by adhesive, such as the surface which provides a seal to the contents of the POD (typically foil) is covered by adhesive. This provides a large contact area with the bag or container for attachment of the POD, and enables improved application of the POD to a bag or container. In FIG. 5H, (547)=Pod, (548)=the piercing element, (549) is the foil seal, (550)=adhesive, (551)=peel-off-label (covering adhesive), and (552)=Label tab (for peel-off-label/release paper), [Note: FIG. 26 provides similar approach using two different adhesive areas--(2607 and 2609)--typically pressure sensitive glue, however, can also be other combinations (e.g. 2607 dual sided sticky foam).

[0341] As the pod is pressed and the piercing element punctures the foil (as well as the attached container/bag material), the adhesive material keeps the `sandwich` of `foil/adhesive/Bag` intact, so that, the inner surface of the foil (i.e. the top part of the foil in the POD) is lining the path, formed by the piercing element, between the pod content and the container (e.g. bag) internals. This substantially eliminates concerns regarding containments formed on the surface of the snack bags in environments which are not sufficiently clean or contact of the outer surface of the bag with the foodstuff inside the bag.

[0342] It is possible to have a hybrid version which also incorporate an adhesive `spongy` band around the foil as illustrated in FIG. 18 (1804) for example (still with adhesive) for additional protection.

[0343] FIG. 5I illustrates the POD (554) as applied in one form to a container, such as a carton, for example milk or juice carton (553), using the adhesion as disclosed herein.

[0344] FIGS. 5G, 6 and 7, the embodiments illustrated do not necessarily constrain the size/shape or even the punching tool mechanism for example, FIG. 7 below shows a spring like design FIG. 7--(701) for the puncturing tool (702), where the pressure (704), transmitted via the seasoning, results in the movement down to puncture the snack bag and the spring-like design to retract when the content and pressure is removed.

Adding Flavouring, Seasoning, Supplements and Other Additives

[0345] One aspect of the present invention when directed to pre-packaged foods provides a significant improvement towards `personalizing` pre-packaged food (most commonly snacks, however, not limited to them).

[0346] The proposed aspect provides a mechanism for consumer to purchase the particular flavouring at the point-of-purchase (or carry sealed single-serve packets), add them to the pre-packaged food without exposing the food to outside atmosphere (with its associated oxygen, moisture, contaminants, etc) and distribute the flavouring throughout the food without the risk of spillage/mess and leveraging the additional space provided by the modified atmosphere in the bag. At no time are either the pre-packaged foods nor the flavouring substantially exposed to `outside` air, ensuring that they able to meet even the strictest dietary requirements as well as maintaining substantially the product quality (and extending the time from flavouring to consumption with limited deterioration--a kind of extended `used by date`--even though flavour has been added post production). As there is no `handling` of the flavouring or the food (reducing possibility of contamination) the consumer can be assured of the quality even if handled by someone other than him/her-self. The invention allows for, similarly, multiple flavouring(s) to be added to the package so that the consumer can tailor the additives to best suit their pallets, dietary needs, etc.

[0347] The invention has significant benefits across the supply chain--reducing significantly the variety of pre-packaged food varieties that need to be produced thus, reducing logistics, shelf space as well a range of environmental issues (due to dumping of wastage). It also reduces the amount of markdown products due to non-moving stock and due date expiry.

[0348] The invention allows the packaging and the flavouring pod to connect and for the flavouring to flow into the pre-packaged food (bag/container). The consumer then proceeds to mixed by mechanical movements (e.g. turning the package around, shaking, etc).

[0349] With reference to FIGS. 15A and 15B, in one embodiment there is provided a sealed container [e.g. sealed with aluminium foil (1505)] which holds the desired additive. The additive is protected against deterioration by current standard method, including, however, not limited to modified atmosphere solution (note: added benefit of requiring less preservatives or anti-caking agents). The POD incorporates around its circumference a region which has an adhesive suitable to attach it to the pre-packaged bag/container (1504). The adhesive is covered by way of a peel-able label (1502). The adhesive region also ensures that the bag/container does not tear further (beyond the internal docking area).

[0350] Inside the POD is a piercing element ((1508), (1516)--FIGS. 15C and 15D) which is used both to pierce the seal over the POD (e.g. aluminium foil) as well as pierce the bag/container when the Pod is attached to the bag/container. The POD section holding the piercing element and content is constructed so that it can be relatively easily compressed by the user.

[0351] The process involves the consumer peeling off the label that protects the adhesive area of the POD, attaching it to the suitable area in the bag or container (not shown) (ie equivalent to `docking`, the adhesive circumference ensuring protection against the environment or spillage) and pressing on the POD to move the piercing element to cut the foil and the bag/container and pushing the flavouring through the opening now created. With the flavouring now in the bag/container, the consumer proceeds to mix it through, preferably by mechanical movements as needed (e.g. turning 360 degrees, shaking, etc.). The consumer can repeat this process several times to add different/multiple flavouring(s). The space retained in the bag/container (e.g. modified atmosphere) has been maintained helping to distribute the flavouring as well as protect the content. The compressible portion of the POD (typically plastic) may retain its compressed shape. Alternatively, the shape of the POD may return back to its original or substantially original shape once the consumer removes the pressure from the base of the POD and the piercing element may retract back with it to substantially its original position so that its sharp end does not represent a hazard to the consumer removing content from the bag/container (for general use the typical piercing element tip is designed so as not to be a hazard--requiring a marginal increase in pressured applied for piercing to occur).

[0352] The POD may remain attached to the bag/container so that consumer does not need to dispose it separately, both a convenience to the consumer as well as a benefit to the establishment (as consumers do not always dispose properly of packaging, e.g. flavouring satchels may be discarded by consumers on the floor of the venue providing the snack).

[0353] A further embodiment may incorporate into the POD one or more features that benefit the consumer through the POD remaining attached to the bag (e.g. FIG. 5F shows an option for loop to put ones finger through so as to hold the bag easily without pressing on the content while removing content with the other hand, or attaching to bike, etc)--these include such concept as mechanism for attaching a snack bag, e.g. magnet, loops, etc (e.g. attach to bike, backpack, etc.).

[0354] FIGS. 5A to 5G, 6, 7, 15A to 15D, 27 and 28 illustrate various embodiments of the POD. They illustrate a relatively low cost implementation of an aspect of the invention requiring with the example in FIGS. 27 and 28 demonstrating a `single vacuum mould` design which incorporates the piercing element as part of the mould. The innovation of `sealed docking` and so can be implemented in a variety of sizes, shapes and complexities, in order to meet different market or consumer requirements. For example, on yogurt containers (with sealed foil or other seal) it may be desirable to white-label a specific snap-on shape/size, it maybe be desirable to have a screw type POD which allows the emptied POD section holding the additive to be discarded, there might be a variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate different packaging requirement, volume, etc. (ie does not have to be circular) and the piercing element could be different shape, material hardness and attached differently in order to accommodate different requirements such as strength of piercing and size of hole. Also, the POD may incorporate either a visual or mechanical system to allow the consumer (or machine, see popcorn modified version) to limit the travel of the piercing element to vary the size of the opening through the docking (e.g. restrict the flow of liquid additives such as olive oil). An example is illustrated in FIGS. 16A and 16B in which markers/colours (1602) and/or numbers (1606) show possible stops or volumes, so the user can know how much to press. Once pressure is removed from the base of the POD the compressible part (typically plastic) may return back to its original state and the piercing element (part of the mould/base) may retract with it to ensure that the sharp tip does not remain exposed.

[0355] FIG. 24 illustrates yet another alternative embodiment in which the piercing element of FIG. 5G is replaced with a syringe style element. (2401)=POD, (2402)=Piercing Element, (2403)=Funnel of piercing element, (2404)=Piercing Element Syringe tip, (2405)=Foil, (2406)=peel-off-label, (2407)=Peel-off-label pull out tab. In operation, the syringe plunger is moved/pushed `injecting` the contents of the POD into the container or bag to which the POD is attached.

[0356] FIGS. 15A to 15D illustrate one example of a POD. FIG. 15A shows the POD as the `final product` with the pull off label (1501) covering the adhesive circumference around the top (as well as covering the foil seal--see FIG. 15B (1505)). A pull-tab (1502) is provided for the consumer to easy remove the label and expose the adhesive seal which will be used to secure the POD to the bag/container. FIG. 15B demonstrates the POD with the peel-off label removed. It shows the areas which have the adhesive (1504) as well as the foil (1505) sealing the freshness of the additive. FIG. 15C shows the compressible part of the POD (1510) (typically compressible plastic) which contains the additive (for illustration powder is mentioned, however, it can be oil or other additives, e.g. large particles if a larger sized POD is made) the illustration shows one solution which is the use of blow moulding to have thin walls (to ensure easily compressed and low cost, standard manufacturing approach--assuming plastic is used) the diagram illustrates also the piercing element (cruciform shaped), attached to the base of the POD, which as a result of the user pressing the base of the POD moves forward to pierce the POD foil and the bag/container releasing the additive into the bag/container.

POD-Modified (Hopper Solution (2B))

[0357] The popcorn machine discussed earlier incorporated optional pods for providing additives to the popcorn (to distinguish it for the general use pod described above (Note: the Hopper or flavouring solution may accommodate a variety of suitable foodstuff (flow/layered/etc).

[0358] In order to ensure relatively good distribution of flavouring (flavours, additives, seasoning, supplements, etc) into the popcorn while it is exiting out of the popcorn machine into a container (controlled flow, limiting the dispersal area and ensuring proper mixing of additives from multiple PODs), a unique POD design was constructed and a suitable mechanical movement mimicking a `tapping motion` (see earlier discussion and FIGS. 2, 3 and 4). The PODs are angled relative to the exit pipe of the popcorn machine with the opening/s off centre towards the surrounding wall of the POD.

[0359] A modified version of POD is able to accommodate both the general market use and use with the Popcorn machine. The solution provides a customer facing establishment which provides both pre-packaged snacks and popcorn (using the popcorn machine) the advantage of having to carry one type of pod to service both

[0360] FIGS. 5 and 6 illustrate a modified piercing element with an added section (605) that pierces the foil earlier (before the main piercing element (602)) and on the side (as per the requirement of the popcorn flavouring PODs) control is achieved by the amount of travel distance of the perceiving element either by user control (see FIGS. 16A and 16B) or mechanical control.

Capsule With Applicator

[0361] This embodiment comprises of two major parts, a POD and at least one capsule. The POD has similarities to POD described herein, it has a `storage compartment` (FIG. 8 (801)) and also the part which adheres to the bag/container with the adhesive material and the peel-off label (FIGS. 8--(803) & (804), note: foil might be optional depends on intended use). The capsule (FIG. 8 (802)) which is contained inside the applicator (FIG. 8--L1) can take a variety of forms or maybe replaced by an object (depending on purpose). FIG. 8--(802) shows an illustration of a capsule which holds an additive (e.g. flavouring, seasoning, and supplement) with holes for distribution.

[0362] The `storage compartment` (FIG. 8--(801)) of the POD is designed to be compressible as is described above. In another embodiment, however, the POD does not return to its original state (different from POD above), e.g. laminated paper or very thin plastic which does not return to shape.

[0363] Instead of or in addition to the piercing element may be incorporated into the base of the applicator there is a capsule (retractable element) OR it may be part around the internal circumference of the adhesive area.

[0364] The operation is similar to POD above, the user peels of the label covering the adhesive material, places against the bag/container in the desired location and presses at the base of the applicator. The POD adheres to the bag/container, the piercing element (capsule or built into the circumference) pierces the bag/container and the capsule (or other object) is inserted into the bag/container. The POD either compresses to a minimal size or the majority of it and gets pushed into the bag (the adhesive part remains to ensure it is sealed and the bag/container does not tear further).

[0365] The capsule illustrated in FIG. 8--(802) holds the additives and has holes all around which allow it to escape once in the bag/container (note that the capsule is matched to the applicator (no gaps to allow additive to flow out in the applicator). This design is flexible, e.g. the capsule can be quite long so it can be designed to reach deep into the bag/container (e.g. almost from one side to the other) to assist in the correct distribution of the additive. Multiple capsules may be added to the bag/container.

[0366] The capsule may take the form of an object with or without flavouring for example, for inserting a surprise toy, for promotion ticket, etc.

[0367] In the above design the capsule or object is retained in the bag, however, it is possible to construct a derivative valve solution which allows additive capsules to be removed and the docking area remain sealed. (The illustration above is simply to highlight the method (invention) with a different application, e.g. inserting objects=not to cover all different derivative designs).

[0368] The solution retains similar benefits to POD, little mess in adding the capsule, little, if any exposure to outside atmosphere, little waste (other than the peel-off label) to dispose at the time, etc.

Rivet

[0369] This embodiment is illustrated in FIGS. 17A, 17B and 17C and is designed to provide an alternative solution for accessing the internals of the bag/container (and other general purpose), e.g. insert additives or remove content. It differs from the other embodiments above (POD and Capsule & Applicator POD) as the bag/container is breached, however, it provides a generic solution for inserting other additives that may not be available through the above embodiments, it allows consumers to add their own additives, for stores to make their own additives and they also allows access to the content and re-sealing the bag/container.

[0370] The Rivet comprises a basic underlying structure (FIG. 17C) with overlaying of functions/complexities over the underlying structure (FIGS. 17B and 17A) (multi-function). The most basic function is a generic solution providing a way to secure an opening in a bag/container so it does not tear beyond the area enclosed by the Rivet (17C). Next embodiment is the inclusion of a matching lid to seal the opening (17B) and last is the provision of a resealable layer either as part of the production of Rivet OR as an optional stick on layer (to the 17C based model) as illustrated in FIG. 17A.

[0371] While there are currently solutions on the market for placing a `cap` on a snack bag they inferior in many respect and thus not widely adopted. They are large and expensive design (large mould, 2 parts, etc.) and are thus limited for multiple use situation, they are only suitable for bags (ie not for other shapes, e.g. containers with clear or foil a the top) as a large amount of the bag material needs to be inserted around one of the pieces and then a cap placed on top, they reduce the available space in the bag which makes the distribution of additive very uneven, they are more cumbersome to `install` due the various parts (juggling the various elements).

[0372] The embodiment comprises (FIG. 17A) of a relatively thin material (`similar to a thick label`) which is composed on multiple layers (note: (1) FIG. 17B with an optional lid requires a thicker material to allow the lid to snap in (2) The embodiment in 17A is also appropriate for 17C as the `thicker material` allows same layers of material as 17A--i.e. incorporating a `re-seal` thin layer at the top--either at production or as a separate label--a flat surface on the raised section (17C (1777) ensure easy adhesion of the `reseal` layer).

[0373] A necessary part is an outer edge (e.g. 1729) which has adhesive material (e.g. 1719, 1725, 1708, 1723, 1711 1714) on it and is tearing resistant, a peel-off label to protect the adhesive (e.g. 1720). The label (1720) is peeled off and the `rivet` is attached to the bag/container (1726) using the pressure sensitive adhesive layer (1725). This allows a hole to be punctured into the bag/container without the risk of further tearing. (Without this design the bag or the foil/thin layer over the container would rip).

[0374] FIG. 17A shows the various layers which make up the solution--1720=peel-of-Label with a tab (1727) for easy removal, 1719=Pressure sensitive adhesive (or other adhesive solutions--e.g. double sided sticky foam), 1718=the main body of the rivet (e.g. plastic, laminate, etc), 1717=thin film layer of adhesive suitable for reseal purpose, 1716=re-seal layer with a tab (1728) to assist in opening. The thin reseal film can be peeled on and off repeatedly (ie reusable seal) using similar sticky material on the edges used for resealable food packaging. FIG. 17B shows the design without this layer and allows for the possibility (using thicker material for the rivet) for a thin lid). The FIG. 17A is a very low cost solution which allows for cheap mass product and a wide range of uses on different shape and type of bags, containers, etc. Like POD it is possible to incorporate into the design a retractable piercing edge on the rivet (requires thicker version) so that the user does not have to cut the bag/container.

[0375] To use the consumer: (1) remove the peel-off label (1720): (2) stick the adhesive side (1719) to an appropriate location on the bag/container: and (3) tears a hole at the centre of the rivet (or if piercing tool design, press to puncture).

[0376] The innovation is adaptable to any situation where one needs to place a hole in a bag/container where tearing is likely to occur if left unchecked (e.g. 17C). Thus a stronger/thinker version (e.g. using plastic) can be used for such items as paper cement bags, etc. Foodstuff packaging is one preferred use of this aspect of invention. FIG. 17C shows the basic rivet (e.g. 1761, 1762) which has a wide contact surface area (e.g. 1768, 1767, 1769, 1776) and an elevated section (e.g. 1764, 1765). The wide contact area is a thinner layer which is more pliable to the bag/container as well as providing additional buffering against ripping. The raised section (e.g. cross section 1777) resists accidental cutting when the bag are is sliced open in the centre of the rivet as well as providing support for a lid (see 17B (1754) lid made of soft pliable material (e.g. rubber, silicon) and with ribbing (1756) for good fit) and supports an option thin film reseal layer (similar to 17A (1716)) with its flat surface. FIG. 17B provides several example of lids (1760, 1761, 1762 and 1754) for different shaped rivets. An optional figure of the rivet is the inclusion of a piercing/cutting element--e.g. (1771/1774) which comprises of the piercing/cutting element (1772/1775) and is attached to the rivet (formed as part of the material) with a flexible neck (1770/1773) which can be easily separated from the rivet.

POD--Inserted Into Bag/Container

[0377] This embodiment is illustrated in FIG. 14 and requires that the bag/container is opened and the flavouring pods inserted into the bag. These pods (1402, 1405, 1408, 1409) are designed to be small enough to ensure good mixing with typical snacks and incorporate a design to ensure best flow of flavouring out of the pod. Due to their size and their design to be mixed in the bag they do not require a large opening in order to be inserted allowing the consumer to better control the likelihood of spillage outside of the bag/container (e.g. folding the corner of the bag where they were dropped in). The holes, size, surface area and flow design of POD can be optimized to different flavouring and thus the combination of flow control and their ability to move inside the bag ensure better distribution and convenience to the consumer. It is more likely, due to the small opening, that some modified atmosphere (and space) will be retained by the bag due to the heaviness of some inert gasses typically used, better for mixing and quality.

[0378] This embodiment may also include an additive capsule to add flavouring/seasoning/supplements to a variety of pre-packaged food, typically snack bags. The user may use this embodiment with the Rivet resealable opening above to provide an opening to the bag, throws in the POD (or multiple PODs if required) into the bag, tries to seal it by folding the opening over, and use a variety of mechanical movement (e.g. shaking) to distribute the POD's and their flavouring around the bag and may even reopen the bag and insert more or further PODs into the bag and again shake and distribute flavouring (as required by the customer).

POD With Adhesive Attachment

[0379] FIGS. 18 to 21 and 27, 28 29A, 29B demonstrate that the POD design (as illustrated in FIGS. 15A to 15D, 5A-5F, etc) may be easily adapted to a variety of manufacturing methods/manufactures. FIG. 18 shows a (cheap) thermoformed cup design (1801) incorporating concentric rings (1802) to provide the spring action necessary for the piercing part (cruciform) to move forward and spring back. The cruciform is made with a different mould out of tougher plastic material (necessary for piercing) (heat-bonded to the thermoform base (1811, 1807) and providing the structure to support the force of the pressure). FIG. 18 also shows a a double sided foam adhesive rim (1804) with release paper/`peel-of-label` (1806). The removal of the release paper (label) exposes the adhesive which provides the connection to the bag or container. The foam facilitates the adhesive connecting with a surface which is not necessarily flat and/or smooth (note with some embodiments of the pod the uneven surface is handled by thicker and wider region of pressure sensitive adhesive and appropriate tackiness performance. FIG. 19 removes the need for the spring action in the thermoformed-cup and instead incorporates it as a single mould with the cruciform (1901, 1903) (providing an optional stronger spring action). The cruciform (1901/1903) snaps into circular undercut slot in the pod (1904). FIGS. 20 and 21 provide additional examples (e.g. FIG. 20 providing spring elements which fold (2003, 2002) vs. the spiral design (2001) and FIG. 21 incorporating the spring action into the side of the thermoform cup (2012, 2013 and compressed version 2017) instead of the ribs at the top as in FIG. 18 (1802)).

[0380] FIG. 25 illustrates yet another alternative embodiment in which the piercing element of FIGS. 18 to 21 is replaced with a syringe style element. (2501)=POD, (2502)=Spring mechanism of piercing element, (2503)=Piercing Element Syringe tip, (2504)=Peel-of-Label. In operation, the syringe plunger is pushed `injecting` the contents of the POD into the container or bag to which the POD is attached (through a secondary opening).

[0381] FIG. 23 illustrates yet another embodiment of the POD. The POD may be designed to be squeezed, in which case the piercing element moves to piece the POD seal and the bag or container to which it is applied and the contents of the POD are squeezed into the opening created. (2301)=Pod, (2302)=The parts that get squeezed, (2303)=the piercing element, (2304)=Label tab (for peel-off-label) and (2305)=squeeze direction. The various dimensions, contents and/or extent to which the POD is squeezed or the piercing element operates may be designed in accordance with the use to which this embodiment is to be applied.

[0382] FIG. 27 illustrates yet another embodiment of the POD. The demonstrated design is of a single vacuum mould cavity incorporating the cruciform as part of the POD. The figure is of a single unit presented in different orientation (i.e. same POD--2701, 2704, 2708, 2711, 2712). The cruciform comprises of a sharper point used to puncture the barriers (foil and bag/container) (2703, 2710) and four blades forming the cruciform (2702, 2709) which are slightly angled (2709) in order to ensure that the barriers are punctured prior to the blades making contact with the bag/container barrier material and forcing it to further open. The shape of the piercing element, number of blades, angles and so on can be optimized for different barrier materials.

[0383] FIG. 28 illustrates further embodiments of the vacuum mould single cavity concept (as per FIG. 27), however, differently shaped (e.g. triangular), different sizes and height (Note--2801, 2802 and 2803 are the same moulds, however at different angles (top, bottom, side)). 2804 and 2805 demonstrate that for the same design different size blades are possible (e.g. to provide different content flow) and the same with scaling the size (2806 to 2809).

[0384] The aspects of invention extend beyond bags to other containers or other situations where it is desirable to introduce additive to a closed container, preferably without breaching the internal atmosphere. For example, as a way to add material to yogurt cups (with the current foil seal used to remove open the container with the POD still attached to the foil). Some of the alternative would require that there is less pressured placed on breaching their, for example, foil seal--that can be achieved by a variety of solutions, e.g. a twist mechanism where the twist moves the component charged with breaching the seal (it is not used in the base design as it involves higher costs, tooling and production). In other cases a greater pressure is desirable and even high internal pressure in the capsule. All are easily accommodate in this innovation.

Thermic Flavouring

[0385] Another approach to be used as an alternative or in conjunction with the embodiments described above, is to provide a capsule(s) which incorporates a sealed thermic section/unit. The purpose of this is to enable the popcorn in the bag (or other snacks or foodstuff) to be flavoured/drizzled with, an flavouring, that is an flavouring that would be in a solid or paste state and which needs to be transformed to a fluid, liquid or gas state to achieve the desired effect (e.g. it may be desirable to have chocolate drizzled on the popcorn (or other foodstuff) and re-solidify as it cools down vs. chocolate powder, in order to obtain the `chocolate crunch sensation`). Currently this can only be achieved at the production stage and is labour or time intensive.

[0386] The thermic section would be initiated by the consumer pressing the pod (similar to the embodiment(s) above), however, for example, would have a two stage press, one initiating the thermal heating process and a second (stronger press) to breach the protection foil and bag in order for the content to flow into the bag. The thermic section can be designed in a variety of ways (e.g. using sodium acetate which, by the pressure of the button press will harden and emit heat, mixing of appropriate chemicals--e.g. calcium oxide and water, and so on).

[0387] The ideas of incorporating a thermic solution into a seasoning/flavouring pod is considered novel. It is not practicable, desirable or even sometimes possible, to heat up the bag (which would be closed, the effect being the snack quality and with the modified atmosphere inside would likely rupture the bag).

Regulating Popped Kernel Size

[0388] There is an increasing variety of `diet` or `lite` prepacked popcorn to address consumer demands. The `lite` popcorn is in essence achieved by removing or reducing oil and other high calories additive.

[0389] The current invention provides the ability to reduce the calories per cup of pop popcorn. The invention regulates the final size or the popped popcorn (increasing the size) so that per `cup` of popcorn fewer kernels are used and thus the `per cup` measured calorie is lower. The expansion is considered beyond the typical expansion ratios provided by different popcorn kernels (ie an additive effect to whatever popping ratio the kernel currently has).

[0390] The inventors have found that the popping volume of popcorn changes based on the moisture content in the kernel. The optimal level of moisture depends on such elements as the size of kernel, the genotype and the method of popping (e.g. oil vs hot air). (Note: the moisture level also impacts the number of un-popped kernels are likely to occur). There are a variety of reasons for the lower popping volume when the kernel moisture content is too high (e.g. lower `melting temperature of the pericarp` resulting in rapture of pericarp when pressure inside is still too low) or too low (e.g. lower pressure).

[0391] Overall, based on common types, and current industry recommendations maintains that in order to achieve optimal popping volume the moisture content within the kernels has to be maintained within a narrow range. While the range is substantially around 13% to 14.5% moisture content with substantial recommendation around the 13.5-13.7% moisture. We have therefore determined that the popcorn maker moisture may be increased up to 2.0%, preferably approximately 0.75% to 1.3% above the standard for the particular recommended moisture content by the manufacturer. (Note: as previously described, differences in such issues as popping method (e.g. hot air vs oil is at the higher end of the range vs. oil in the lower range), differences in kernel size and type need to be taken into account for maximum optimization).

[0392] The current body of work is based on current form of popping methods. The new innovation is able to deliver larger volume through manipulation of moisture above the manufacturers recommended moisture level for any particular geno-type, size of kernel; temperature and speed of popping beyond the current methods (e.g. oil popping, hot air popping and standard microwave packaged solution).

[0393] Case 1: Thermal delta manipulations only. As previously described part of the innovation is the manipulation of the initial temperature at which kernels enter the popping cup/chamber in order to change aspects such as popping volume and/or texture, etc. Increasing the volume of popping through this process reduces the calorie per `popped cup` of popcorn.

[0394] Case 2: A combination of deviation from the current recommended moisture levels in combination with both initial thermal state and the volume popped. The speed of popping provided by the current innovation (which can also be adjusted through control over the volume of kernels delivered into the popping chamber using the benefits of `free-flow`), the use of microwaves (ie directly impacting the water content rather than convection through the pericarp and the thermal control of kernels initial state as they enter the popping chamber/cup, allows the moisture level to be varied from the current recommend range while ensuring that, for example, increasing percentage moisture does not result in rapture of the pericarp at lower pressures. The effects are to increase the volume for a particular genotype/size beyond what is the current methods.

[0395] The canister in combination with the thermal control which is part of the invention assists in delivering these outcomes by ensuring that the moisture level is better controlled during storage and that there are not deleterious side effects due to, for example, higher moisture.

[0396] The lower the initial temperature of the kernels entering the cup the greater is the thermal delta and its effect, however, this benefit must be balanced against the effect on speed of popping, fractures to the pericarp, cost of energy, and so on. Moisture, size and type of kernels also impact the outcome. In one embodiment, it has determined that an initial state of the kernels between -6 C to +15 C provides the best outcome balancing the various conflicting demands as well as variations within kernels. Typically the popcorn marker thermal control unit will be set to regulate the kernel temperature to 2 C +/-1.5 C as a universal setting. [Note: Storing the kernels at even lower temperatures (tested to -12 C) does not seem to effect the pericarp and can improve lifespan, however, it was determined that downside implications do not warrant it for the popcorn maker].

[0397] Note that similar issues occur in other grains (other popping varieties then popcorn) which the invention previously addressed, although, the optimal ranges are significantly different.

Production Flow--Converting Batch/s to Discrete Portions

[0398] Currently the use of technologies such as, hot air and kettle/oil poppers, in retail commercial operations, e.g. specialized (gourmet) retail popcorn shops which can be viewed, in size, as akin to bakeries in terms of production and even small (cottage) producers, involve a volume `batch process`. Given such element as the length of popping time (and other issues relating to oil based systems) these systems are designed to produce large batches of popcorn in order to provide the necessary production volume and cost efficiencies. These system require large amount of energy due to the combination of time to heat via pericarp, volume, etc (even small systems, e.g. 12 oz Hot Air Popper by a leading supplier requires 30 A power plug).

[0399] The innovation we termed `production flow` converts the single serve design of the system described herein above into a high volume, energy efficient, popcorn production system which can be used for commercial operations. Among its benefits is that the production mimics (so to degree) a flow and so the establishment is able to control the output by time (a more granular production volume).

[0400] The concept borrow a page from calculus, in that a continuous production curve can be viewed a made up of discrete points (as small as one likes). The innovation takes the industry `batch size` (ie matches to competition volume/time production claim for a batch) and breaks it down to small `sub batches` (based on an optimization formula that takes into account mechanical aspects of kernel delivery, popping time (and capacity), velocity, etc). The `sub-batches` then enter the popping chamber based either on an overlapping (or close to overlapping) or discrete cycles. While only small quantity is popped in the popping chamber at any one time (`sub-batch`) the result for the (full) batch, due to the combination of high speed and high efficiency, delivers a commercial retail scale solution with excellent energy efficiency, small footprint, and ability to program the time for different batch granularity. The innovation leverages such the feature of the popper such as the free-flow design of the popper which allows both popped kernels to vacate the popping chamber and the ability to feed in from the canister, the high efficiency, penetrating nature of the microwave subsystem, the negligible effects of heat loss due to open chamber or mixing of kernels of different temperature/state (due to microwave use).

[0401] The process can be implemented in two ways, both involving splitting the required batch quantity kernels into smaller `sub-batches` quantities and popping them in sequence: (1) `virtually continuous process` where the system is programmed to release the next (`sub-batch`) quantity of kernels into the cup just before (or same time) the current (sub-batch) in the popping cup/chamber pop, ie almost overlapping (using such approaches as (A) time based formula for popping given the efficiency and stability of the microwave popper design, (B) change in reflection (sensor), temperature changes or magnetron, (C) sensing the popcorn exiting the outflow pipe, etc.). One advantage of this approach is that magnetron is relatively continuously outputting microwave (note that under `continuous` operation water cooling and additional protection may be required). (2) a similar approach except the sub-batches enter the cup after the prior sub-batch has been popped. The magnetron does not operate on the continuous full power as above (i.e. reduced power between the sub-batches) however, it is maintained at a ready state (e.g. temperature) to quickly assume substantially full power within a very short time. The process is fully automated via a control system that also optimizes the sub-batches--size, flow and energy efficiency.

[0402] The innovation can be scaled through larger popping machine version with larger scale unit and larger magnetron (e.g. replacing the `domestic size` magnetron with large, commercial, types (e.g. 6000 W water-cooled)), e.g. larger sub-batch sizes. It can also be scaled using multiple, domestic magnetrons, (e.g. multi popping cups in parallel, using similar concept as current of microwave permeable cup which keeps the kernels from the side to create regions within a `large cup` that are largely non-overlapping by the different magnetrons, optimizing (sync) between magnetrons, etc.).

[0403] By way of an example, a 12 oz current hot air popper for commercial retail establishment (requiring 30 A Plug) is an equivalent of .about.340 gr of (raw) corn kernels. Based on published specs requires a 3 minutes popping time.

[0404] In the case of the above innovation, assuming current design, after magnetron (optimal--e.g. CW) is in full power, a popping time of approx. 10 seconds for a 100 kernels batch. In an idealized calculation (ie not accounting for delays due to control, other inefficiencies, etc and assuming overlapping sub-batches), 3 minutes would translate to 180 seconds or 1800 raw kernels. Corn seed vary substantially in count per pound (.about.453 gr) depending on the kind of corn used (dent, flint, sweet, etc.) and sizes (e.g. from 1200 per pound to over 3500 per pound). An approximate average is 1800 per pound. Thus the `idealized` calculation provides an improvement over current approach/solution of 33%. Not taking into account the energy benefits, size, variability, etc.

[0405] The ideal magnetron configuration for the popcorn maker is a Continuous Wave design/Unit with a thigh frequency band (eg. 2450 Mhz+/-15 Mhz) [Note: implementations using CW and greater band are typically targeting more cost sensitive, less demanding markets--e.g. home use)

Foodstuff Layering

[0406] A further aspect of invention is what we term `Foodstuff Layering`. The layering innovation involves (managed by control system) breaking down single serve batches to smaller portions and depositing progressively layers of foodstuff and layers of flavouring in a step by step process (some foodstuff intermixed with flavouring and some separated), into the serving cup (container), to form the single serve. (Note: that some flavouring maybe mixed (e.g. if during the flow in with the foodstuff and others layered (e.g. drizzled) on top--e.g. deposit foodstuff layer in container--then deposit flavours above cycle). This process would be impractical and/or uneconomical under current solution such as oil, hot air and `closed microwave` solutions due to a variety of reason, e.g. time to pop, oil, drop in temperature increasing time, not end-to-end process, etc.).

[0407] Currently popcorn is produced as a batch. The batch then undergoes further processes of adding flavouring and the process of mixing them (e.g. a mixing drum). In the case of `gourmet popcorn store` there may be a further process where the popcorn is placed on a large tray and an additive (e.g. melted chocolate) is manually drizzled on top (very labour time and space consuming).

[0408] The innovation of layering relies on the `free-flow` design of the system and the automation option to break a single serve (`can be thought of as a batch`) to smaller portions kernels being popped into the `final` cup interleaving with different additives and even, in a system with multiple canisters, different kernels (including non-popcorn varieties) [automated control]. Note that the layering and flavouring is applicable to other, suitable, foodstuff as long as the flow is provided via a similar mechanism (`flow pipe`) or via the hopper 2B.

[0409] The process can be implemented in two ways, both involving splitting the required quantity kernels for the particular serving size into smaller quantities and popping them in sequence to fill the serving cup/container: (1) `virtually continuous process` where the system is programmed to release the next (sub-batch) quantity of kernels into the cup just before (or same time) the current (sub-batch) in the popping cup/chamber pop (using such approaches as (A) time based formula for popping, given the efficiency and stability of the microwave popper design, (B) change in reflection (sensor), temperature changes or magnetron, (C) sensing the popcorn exiting the outflow pipe, etc.). One advantage of this approach is that magnetron is continuously outputting microwave. Note that this approach is in itself unique. It enables the construction of a derivative microwave popper which can provide a `virtual` continuous production process. (2) a similar approach except the sub-batches enter the cup after the prior sub-batch has been popped. The magnetron does not operate on the continuous full power as above (i.e. reduced power between the sub-batches) however, it is maintained at a ready state (e.g. temperature) to quickly assume substantially full power within a very short time.

[0410] The innovative design features of the popcorn popper are key enablers for this approach (e.g. free-flow design, the microwave penetration and distribution, etc.).

[0411] By way of example, let's say that a particular serve of popcorn had 150 kernels and took 15 seconds to pop. A typical operation would be to enter all 150 Kernels into the popping chamber and pop them (this is akin to the batches are currently produced in the industry). Under layering the system might release the 150 kernels from the storage canisters in, for example, lots of 25 kernels at a time, in effect breaking the single batch into 6 sub-batches. Between each batch, and in synch with their exit from the outflow pipe, a layer (drizzle) of for example, melted chocolate will be drizzled on top from a feed-tube next to outflow pipe and, possibly, in combination with other additives (e.g. from pods). Each flavouring may be added in a `step by step` progress of the popcorn into the container. This will ensure a substantially homogenous distribution of each flavouring as it is added, and before the next flavouring is added. For example, if the foods has a drizzle of chocolate on them, sufficient time can be provided for the chocolate to cool (possibly assisted with airflow) prior to the next layer undergoing the same cycle so as to reduce the level of `stickiness`, substantially ensuring that layers to do not to stick together, [or multiple (repeating group of) layers can also be introduced, e.g. popcorn, melted chocolate, nuts--3 repeating layers.]

[0412] The layering innovation can similarly be used to incorporate a variety of additives (including bulky ones) to the single serve while ensuring a substantial homogeneity without the next for mixing.

[0413] The layering innovation is highly flexible and adaptable. For example, incorporating multiple storage canisters into the popcorn maker design (or partitioning inside the canister) would allow the system to automatically pod different varieties of grains, `intermixing` by way of layers. The pneumatic sub-system is controlled to ensure that the airflow is matched to the particular requirements of different grains as similarly the microwave subsystem. (for example, having two canister (or two sections in one), one with popcorn and one with quinoa. To maximize throughput the system may incorporate a circuit to ensure that the magnetron temperature is substantially maintained to ensuring minimal delays.

[0414] The layering innovation can utilize the system for its full capabilities, e.g. including popcorn sculpting innovation described elsewhere.

[0415] The layering innovation can be used to create complex offerings (ie a single serve combining multiple different flavoured popcorn in a single serve by non-uniform layering.), reduce the amount of additives used (e.g. to reduce calories, costs, etc), it can vary the quantities (seasoning/popcorn) to account for the way our senses perceive flavours and its accumulative effects.

[0416] They layering innovation is also independent of the microwave popping machine--for example--FIG. 2B where the popcorn (or other foodstuff) is stored in the automated hopper (217) provides the layering process via a release control mechanism (218) and flavouring control mechanism (220).

Pressure Sensitive Adhesive Material for POD

[0417] As previously illustrated the POD design is can incorporate a variety of adhesive solutions--e.g. double sided form and Pressure Sensitive Adhesive. The primary solution is a pressure sensitive adhesive due to production advantages as well as the ability to offer a lamination solution where the entire barrier foil of the POD is covered and so adheres to the surface of the bag/container and thereby minimize the likelihood of content of the POD ever making contact with the outer surface of the bag/container.

[0418] FIG. 26 description: FIG. 26 depicts examples of different coverage of pressure sensitive adhesive on the on the surface area of the POD which attaches to the customer's bag/container. The POD is designed as a generic flavour delivery platform and therefore needs to accommodate a wide range of barrier material. Some barriers have tendency to easily tear/rip along a particular path due to their structure and production method. As the POD method aims at substantially maintaining a seal around the piercing section (i.e. maintain the modified atmosphere of the pierced bag), it needs to control for such situations. This is substantially achieved by innovating the application of the pressure sensitive adhesive. (Note: modification to piercing element as well as double-tape(+foam) solution assist, however, introduce constraints and costs which may not be desirable for all markets). The POD resolves the tear issue of some barrier material by balancing the tackiness of the adhesive and the surface coverage it occupies.

[0419] FIG. 26 depicts two scenarios--both showing the area which is meant to be stuck onto the foodstuff bag/container. The figure on the Left is of the scenario of a single adhesive (2603), the one on the right with the dual type adhesives (2607 & 2609). (2601) & (2605) denote the actual POD structure (outer rim), (2602) & (2606) denote the rim edge of the inner cavity (where the flavour content is placed), Item (2603) & (2607) (shaded area) shows the lower tackiness glue extending over the foil region of the POD beyond the rim in order to reduced tear/rip on piercing by the piercing element (2604) & (2608). (2609) shows the very high tackiness adhesive used for lamination (POD barrier foil and the bag/container it attaches to). The adhesive (2603) & (2607) can be adjusted on the particular needs of the bag (or container material) and tackiness required (including coverage area). Extending the surface area (item 2603/2607) for same level of tackiness reduces the extent to which the barrier tears (alternatively--reducing tackiness acts in a similar way). In the scenario on the right side--where full lamination is desirable between the barrier surface and the POD's foil--then as a minimum it is necessary to use an ultra-tackiness adhesive agent for Item (2609) area to ensure the piercing element movement is not constraint and the lamination bonds allow piercing. An alternative option is to splatter the adhesive such that one achieves substantial lamination (or other layering patterns), however, the adhesive chains are not all interlinked--rather separated or small grouping.

Microwave & Heat Application (Adhesive) POD Design:

[0420] An additional embodiment of the (adhesive) POD design is a derivative version used for Microwave meal application (and modified versions for other heat sources). FIGS. 29A and 29B provide an illustration of a modified Microwave POD design concept.

[0421] One of the applications provided for the `base` POD design [used for `injecting` flavour into sealed bags/contained by way of sticking onto the bag and piercing it] was to deliver marinade/sauces to `pre-packaged` food (e.g. steak). The solution provided benefits such as--`Consumer selected Marinade` (Vs. pre-marinade), preserving the quality and life of the product (e.g. reduced deterioration of meat, less preservatives) and, substantially, preserving the sealed nature of the packaging when adding the marinade well in advance of preparation. Many Microwave Meals could benefit from similar separation between the core product and the added sauces with the added benefit of differentiated heating between the core meal and the sauces/marinades.

[0422] While there are currently products which separate between the core product (e.g. protein such as fish, meat) and the particular sauce, these solution require complex packaging solution which incorporate both elements in the same package during production. The consumer thus does not have the option of selecting different sauces to incorporate with the meal, nor a generic solution which will work with different (off the shelf) meals from different suppliers. The `all-in-one` nature of these solutions also places constraints on innovation.

[0423] The `Generic Use` Microwave POD construction provides the ability for the consumer add the sauces (or similar) to various generic microwave meals by allowing them to choose the POD independent of the meal. The `adhesive seal` delivers a substantially `closed system`--providing benefits similar to an `all-in-one` multi-compartment packaging, while permitting independent innovation of the POD and packaging (including different manufacturers). The construction of the POD is able to accommodate different heating requirement through such mechanism as incorporating a succeptor of appropriate size and shape (converting microwave energy to heat) as well as materials which have different microwave transparency levels with regards to microwaves penetration and/or absorption characteristics (note: for other heat sources its is possible to adjust the pod materials to improve (or slow down) heat transfer, waves transparency, etc)

[0424] Similarly, the `Microwave POD` can be used to provide `flavouring` to microwave snacks as well as reduced the undesirable effects of the use of `susceptors` in some snacks--For example: Microwave Popcorn packets--currently the flavouring is incorporated into the packaging (e.g. butter flavour) and requires that the packaging incorporates a susceptor type solution to heat up and liquefy the `butter flavour`. The consumer is not able to select the type of flavour/s to be incorporated (other than buying the particular package), add other flavours, or restrict the amount (e.g. less butter). The Susceptor, necessary to direct more heat at liquefying the butter, often adversely affect the quality of some popcorn by heating them unnecessarily and excessively (burning the ones which stay at the bottom of the packet). The `Microwave POD` allows consumer to select their own `flavour/s`. As it incorporates it own susceptor (or similar) it is possible to offer generic popcorn microwave bags with no susceptor--reducing the adverse effects on the popcorn, ensuring greater energy efficiency and reducing overheating effects on the flavour as the liquefied flavouring escapes the POD and thus not subjected to same level of additional heating (overcooking). The applications extend to any flavour requiring heating up--with the POD heating construction matching the particular food flavour product. Note the same concept is applicable to many microwave food types (fish, meat, vegetables, etc.).

[0425] Description of Usage: As a `derivative` of the standard POD it operates is similar way. The consumer selects a particular POD, removes the peel-of-label and attaches to the surface area of the Microwave Meal (assuming a `pierce-able` material--eg. bag or container with thin film on top). Depending on the construction of the POD--they either press on the POD (2903) (similarly to the standard (non Microwave) POD version) to generate a small puncture in the surface area of the POD barrier and the meal/snack packaging (size suitable for the particular sauce), OR, simply leave it attached as the POD (2908) will automatically pierce the barriers when a certain pressure is achieved.

[0426] The Microwave POD, depending on the type of content, may incorporate succeptor type solutions (2905 & 2910) (or ones providing similar function) to convert the Microwave energy into heat directed at the content. The particular implementation would depend on the specific content--e.g. high water content may not require a succeptor type solution, others would require minimal heat for best outcome (e.g. smaller aluminium particles, carbonized, etc), and others high heat intensity. The desirable pressure for the pod would also effect the amount of energy which is desirable.

[0427] Piercing/pressure--The control of flow from the POD to the meal as well as the escape pressure would depend on the content and application. For example, it is possible that some products such as Fish are only exposed to the sauces towards the end of the cooking cycle whereas for others it is preferable that the content is liquefied as quickly as possible and released into the meal. In some cases it is also desirable that the release is done at high pressure to assist in dispersal. Thus there is no `optimal` design--rather the base Microwave POD design--with adaptation to suit particular desired outcomes. The following provides a small subset of the different constructions by way of example: [0428] C-1. Generating a `small` initial piercing in both the POD barrier & meal barrier (packaging). The vacating of flavour into the meal can be achieved in different ways--e.g. C-1-1: Simply relying on the build-up of pressure in the pod to force the initial piercing (with micro-tears) to force open the two barriers up to the adhesive/pod ring (e.g. 2903). C-1-2: Constructing the POD so as to direct the pressure to `secondary` (or even primary) `push elements` which pry the barriers open. [0429] C-2 A construction which results in the movement/activation of the piercing structure due to pressure build-up in the POD (e.g. 2908). [0430] C-3. Incorporating a piercing element onto the top of the POD (under peel-of label) where the pressure build-up in the POD inflates or displaces the barrier and delivers pressure onto the piercing element to breach the packaging (the barrier material can be designed for easy breach (e.g. micro-perforation), effected by heat, etc). [0431] C-4 Incorporating a piercing element with built flow control. [0432] C-5 A consumer control option which allows a manual intervention (e.g. stopping microwave, pressing a the pod to release the content and restarting the microwave (pod can be constructed using suitable flexible material--e.g silicon)).

[0433] A further embodiment would be a version using a durable/flexible material and provided replacement sealing labels with adhesive providing a construct a re-useable pod design so that customer could refill the POD with their own flavours/content seal it and reuse (this is possible also for the standard (adhesive) POD design).

[0434] FIG. 29A Description: A POD (2903) with: Peel of label (2901); Adhesive suitable for microwave/hot environments over a food barrier which is suitable for microwave use as well as piercing (2902); Piercing element (2904); Content (2906) and a Susceptor (2905). The piercing element is used to pierce the POD food barrier layer and the microwave food container. The Susceptor (optional) converts microwave energy to heat (conduction). The combination of microwave energy and heat from the Susceptor--heats up the content resulting in built up pressure with release into the lower pressured microwave meal container. (note: an optional dual valve can be installed in unique cases with higher pressure in the microwave meal container (circulation)).

[0435] FIG. 29B Description: shows a POD (2908) with: Peel of label (2906); Adhesive suitable for microwave/hot environments over microwave suitable food barrier substrate (2907); Dual Piercing elements (2909) which are part of an insert into the POD (2912) and which are constructed to bend under pressure at point (2913); Content (2911) and a Susceptor (2910) [optional]. Initial pressure is transmitted onto the piercing elements via exerting pressure to the top of the POD (e.g. thumb pressure). The piercing elements pierce (slightly) the barrier and microwave food container. As pressure builds up due to the direct microwave energy as well as the heat from the Susceptor (optional) (which converts microwave energy to heat (conduction)) there is a built up of pressure on piercing elements so as to cause to move forward and rotate and thus increase the size of the opening. The design (surface area of the pierce elements, the strength of the hinge, etc) also for flexibility in tailoring the solution to different type of sauces/liquids and require flow behaviour. Note: A similar version for non-microwave application/heat source (e.g. oven, infra-red, etc) is able to use a foil barrier and would not require a susceptor. This induction heat pod can be constructed using different material to affect the heat conduction through the pod material to the content to affect different speed of heating. It is also possible to embed high heat conducting material into the pod base or walls.

[0436] A further innovation applicable to all the `adhesive` POD design is the incorporation of a Flange as part of the bag or container surface area (where the POD piercing element will penetrate). The POD can remain generic (i.e. used for bag/containers with or without a flange) or can be optimized to work in combination with the flange. The flange acts somewhat as a docking port or interface for facilitating the attachment of POD(s) to packets/containers. FIG. 31 demonstrates the concept: The bag (3101) incorporates a POD interface/flange (3102) which provides a thicker (non-rip) area (3103) and an inner area (3015). The thicker region (3103) provides a more uniform surface area (e.g. flatter, less likelihood of ridges occurring) onto which the POD (3106) is able to attach using the standard adhesive method. The uniformity and thickness allow for smaller POD construction (e.g. reduce the contact surface area (3017)--in particular as (3013) provide rip resistance. The centre of the Flange (3115) is the same thickness/material as the rest of the bag/container barrier which allows for the piercing element to penetrate the barrier as before.

[0437] It is possible also to construct the same with an adhesive layer on the bag/container itself instead of incorporating the adhesive as part of the POD--with a peel-of-label (release sheet) on top of the flange/adhesive for protection. The POD in this configuration does not require any adhesive or peel-of-label with only the foil (3018) barrier remaining as per the standard (generic) design. The adhesive arrangement can be similar to the ones shown in FIG. 26 (and other variations). The benefit of this approach is to simplify the production of the POD (removing the adhesive layer and peel-off-label from the POD and relocating it instead to the bag), allowing for tighter integration with particular bag/container design, smaller sizes and so on. It is possible to incorporate more than one Flange as part of the Bag/Container--(3120) shows a 4 pod locations as a single flange (i.e. permitting 4 PODs to be attached to the snack bag/container. The same can also be achieved using a label which can be stuck onto the bag/snack (3120) and which incorporates a pressure sensitive adhesive and peel-of-label (similar to rivet) the user attaches the label which provides (in this case) 4 pod locations. Since the label incorporates pressure sensitive adhesive through the outer region (3122) the pod location can be placed in very tight formation as the likelihood of ripping is further reduced. It can also reduce production complexities and costs by substituting the adhesive layer and peel off label on the POD to the label.

[0438] The Flange area described above can also be adapted to provide a way to support both the `adhesive` POD construction as well as insertable PODs (1408, 1409, 1405) by incorporating micro perforations at (3015) and ensuring the peel-off-label is both reusable as well as providing a suitable food barrier (material+adhesive at (3013)).

[0439] FIG. 31 provides a side, cross-sectional cut, view of the flange for illustration purposes (not to scale). (3124) represents the standard bag/container surface. (3125) represents the flange (i.e. the thicker area formed as part of the bag/container surface). (3126) illustrates the pressure sensitive adhesive (or other suitable adhesive) and (3127) the peel-off-label (release paper) and (3128) is an optional high tackiness (or splatter arrangement) adhesive for lamination effect (between Bag barrier and POD foil). In the cross-sectional image on the left the POD used is the standard (adhesive type) design with the flange simply providing a flatter/more consistent surface and rip resistance, whereas in the image on the right the POD will simply have the barrier foil (similar to common coffee pods) and will be attached to the flange by the consumer removing the peel-of-label (3127) and applying the pod surface to the adhesive region (3126) and the proceeding with applying pressure on the POD to initiate the piercing process and content transfer. Other variations of this base approach are also possible (e.g. variation of the design that incorporate a flange with higher thickness (e.g. rivet FIG. 17C) which has a mating mechanism with a POD (snap in) and using only a thin lamination adhesive in the centre) or incorporating a foil or other frangible material.

[0440] A further embodiment is derivative design of the above label concept (3120) is a design where the label with the adhesive material acting both to attach the POD as well as act as a seal has cut outs instead of the adhesive area shown by (3121). The cut-out region is designed to fit around the core body of the POD (covering the wider section of the POD which makes contact with the bag surface).

[0441] The label itself has adhesive in regions (3122) (suitably arranged so as to stick onto the wider section of the pod while ensuring easy removal of the release paper). Depending on the adhesive regions (and keep-out areas design)--the consumer may remove the release paper (peel-of-label) at the bottom of the label (which masks the adhesive layer sandwiched between the main label material and the release paper), fit the label over the POD through the cut out (or multiple PODs if it is multi-cut out label) and attach the label (with the trapped POD/s) to the bag/container--securing the POD and providing the necessary seal. The design allows for greater flexibility with regards to the seal design (e.g. size, material, etc) while removing the need to incorporate the adhesive to the POD. It can also support multiple PODs using a single label. The POD can have an adhesive layer to provide the benefits of lamination as discussed earlier.

[0442] While this invention has been described in connection with specific embodiments thereof, it will be understood that it is capable of further modification(s). This application is intended to cover any variations uses or adaptations of the invention following in general, the principles of the invention and including such departures from the present disclosure as come within known or customary practice within the art to which the invention pertains and as may be applied to the essential features hereinbefore set forth.

[0443] As the present invention may be embodied in several forms without departing from the spirit of the essential characteristics of the invention, it should be understood that the above described embodiments are not to limit the present invention unless otherwise specified, but rather should be construed broadly within the spirit and scope of the invention as defined in the appended claims. The described embodiments are to be considered in all respects as illustrative only and not restrictive.

[0444] Various modifications and equivalent arrangements are intended to be included within the spirit and scope of the invention and appended claims. Therefore, the specific embodiments are to be understood to be illustrative of the many ways in which the principles of the present invention may be practiced. In the following claims, means-plus-function clauses are intended to cover structures as performing the defined function and not only structural equivalents, but also equivalent structures. For example, although a nail and a screw may not be structural equivalents in that a nail employs a cylindrical surface to secure wooden parts together, whereas a screw employs a helical surface to secure wooden parts together, in the environment of fastening wooden parts, a nail and a screw are equivalent structures.

[0445] "Comprises/comprising" and "includes/including" when used in this specification is taken to specify the presence of stated features, integers, steps or components but does not preclude the presence or addition of one or more other features, integers, steps, components or groups thereof. Thus, unless the context clearly requires otherwise, throughout the description and the claims, the words `comprise`, `comprising`, `includes`, `including` and the like are to be construed in an inclusive sense as opposed to an exclusive or exhaustive sense; that is to say, in the sense of "including, but not limited to".

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