Meals ready to eat, or MREs for short, have been a long-standing staple in pre-packaged food. MREs were initially created in the early 1980s to improve upon earlier forms of pre-packed rations used for military personnel. Since then, MREs have continued to play a role in providing nutrition to military personnel.
Nowadays, non-military personnel citizens have adopted MREs into urban prepping and emergency preparedness plans due to their relative convenience and impressive shelf life.
If you have also wondered, “How long do MREs last?” keep reading.
The original MRE was not that delicious. Luckily, over the years,
MREs have changed a lot.
The US military has worked hard to improve the food they provide to active duty members. Even so, it’s no secret that some military members don't like MREs. As such, MREs have even become nicknamed “meals rejected by everyone” or “meals rarely edible.”
Nevertheless, MREs continue to be eaten in the military because a better-tasting, more convenient, and shelf-stable alternative has yet to be created.
Believe it or not, MREs are not just vacuum-sealed bags full of cardboard-tasting food. A basic MRE kit will include a main entree, a side dish, bread or crackers with spread (think jelly or peanut butter), a dessert, drink mixes, utensils, and even seasonings. Most MREs will also come with a flameless ration heater to warm the MRE.
Some classic examples of MRE varieties include:
Typical MREs contain about 1,250 calories; however, some civilian MREs may contain slightly less. Regardless, if you are eating three MREs a day, that’s plenty of nutrition to survive.
MREs do not come with an official expiration date. How long an MRE lasts is based on how long and at what temperature it is stored. Typically, the colder or closer to room temperature, the better. However, don’t go too cold—freezing your MREs may ruin them.
Estimated Shelf Life of MREs
Temperature in Degrees Fahrenheit
Shelf Life in Months
Temperature plays an essential role in how long MREs last. Other crucial factors that enhance the shelf life of MREs are how the food is prepared and the MRE packaging.
In most cases, MREs do not contain additives or preservatives. Instead, MREs only contain fully cooked food. Like cooking at home, cooking the food kills off any bacteria and viruses that could contaminate the food. Afterward, the food is sterilized as a secondary precaution.
To further prolong the shelf life, some ingredients in the MRE are salted to absorb moisture and more efficiently preserve the food.
Lastly, all the ingredients are sealed into oxygen-free airtight containers. MRE containers prevent the food from oxidizing and from allowing bacteria and germs into the food.
Unfortunately, MREs are not stamped with an expiration date. The reason is that how they are stored dictates their shelf life. As we learned above, the closer you can store your MREs to consistent room temperature (if not slightly colder), the better.
On the other hand, MREs do come with a manufacturing date. However, it’s not as simple as checking other processed foods' manufacturing dates.
What you are looking for is a four-digit code. The first digit indicates the year the MRE was manufactured. For example, a five would indicate 2015, and an eight would indicate 2018.
The following digits in the code tell you the day of the year. For example, 425 indicates April 25th, and 828 indicates October 28th.
How long an MRE lasts in your food storage will depend on how it’s stored. To extend the shelf life of your MREs, we recommend following these tips:
It is possible for MREs to spoil, especially if they are not stored correctly. Here are some warning signs to look out for if you are questioning the freshness of MREs:
MREs should not be the only emergency food you have stockpiled. Other types of emergency food may be more suitable for you and your family. Regarding other types of food storage, we like to organize them into three categories:
MREs have played an essential role in keeping our country’s military personnel fed while in the field and away from home for long stints of time. Their lightweight durability, reliable packaging, and nutrient-dense food are perfect for consuming on the go.
Because of that, MREs have commonly been adopted into emergency food storage plans. For the self-reliant prepper, MREs generally shine as a component in bug-out bags. However, we advocate for professionally-made emergency food for a more robust and reliable food storage plan.
To learn more about the best prepper food, visit our website.