Featured Image for Techly Explains: What’s that white plastic thing in pizza boxes?
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Techly Explains: What’s that white plastic thing in pizza boxes?

There’s one thing about ordering pizza that’s always the same. No matter if you pick it up, or request Dominos send their cutest delivery boy to your house. Whether your pizza is meaty, all cheese, or gluten free (sorry), it’s always there.

We’re obviously talking about the little white plastic thing on top of your pizza.

You all know it. You’ve all seen it. But what is it for?

Well, it turns out this little piece of plastic could be the most important ingredient in that goes into making the perfect pizza.

Officially, the little white device is known as a “pizza saver”, and, as with every great idea, it’s genius in its simplicity.

It was invented by Carmela Vitale, a 46-year-old woman from Dix Hills, New York, on Long Island. And though Vitale was not a scientist, nor an engineer, her genius invention changed the way the world functioned forever.

In order to ensure that pizza is still warm when it’s served to you, the pies are placed in their boxes while still extremely hot. However, as pizza boxes are made of thin, cheap cardboard, and have a fairly large surface area, the steam emitted by the pizza as it cools has a tendency to dampen, weaken, and even warp the pizza box.

This is bad news for pizza enthusiasts, because a weakened pizza box can result in some pretty horrific damage. At best, you’ll have dirty cardboard touching your pizza when it begins to sag. At worst, the combination of heat, moisture, and tight enclosed spaces can result in the topping of your pizza sticking to the top of the box, and staying there once it’s opened.

Vitale’s design is a simple way to prevent the pizza lid from touching the delicious food inside. Her original design, a tented piece of plastic, strong enough to resist temperatures over 500 ºC, with three arms extending from the centre, was submitted for patent in 1983. A patent was granted in 1985.

Carmela Vitale's pizza patent

Little did Vitale known that her design would change the way food was prepared and stored forever.

Although the outlay for manufacturing equipment and storage may be expensive, the savers themselves are cheap, and the raw plastic to produce one costs under one cent a piece. And when over three billion pizzas are sold each year in the USA alone, that’s a whole lot of dough for pizza saver manufacturers.

Vitale let her patent lapse in 1993, and later passed away in 2005. While there have been changes and updated variants, Vitale’s design still forms the core of pizza saver technology today. And though she is gone, as long as there is pizza, she will never be forgotten.

About the author

Karl is the physical embodiment of an alternate universe where Kurt Cobain played for Hanson, instead of Nirvana. When he’s not furiously bashing a keyboard and howling in pain, he can probably be found mumbling into a microphone somewhere, or up in the gym working on his fitness (with Fergie as his witness)

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