How Long do MRES Meals Last?

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When it comes to emergency preparedness and “Prepping” for hard times, there are four basic tenants you must consider first and foremost. Those principles to remember are water, fire, shelter, and then food. Water, fire, and shelter are pretty easy mostly, but for food the options are a bit blurrier. You have a few basics like dehydrated backpackers food, some kit that comes with enough calories to barely sustain you for the day, and then you have MREs (or Meals Ready to Eat).

What is an MRE?

Now, MRE meals have been around for a while and the companies that make them mostly started off as a military supplier of some sort. That is because these meals, which are basically a small box of food tightly packed together, were designed to sustain troops in the field who have no other eating options for multiple days on end except their MRE that they all have packed away in their soldier’s kit somewhere, and these are often issued to them from a simple supply request for a few MRE meal packages. For us civilians, however, we will have to pay up to have the same peace of mind in knowing our needs will be met no matter what we experience.

An MRE comes as a small box wrapped in some sort of plastic to keep it sealed from outside contamination. So, be careful how you store and handle your MREs even though they are designed to withstand anything a soldier’s pack may experience during extended training or real missions. This means they will take on quite a bit of abuse, but only in certain ways because in other ways they tend to spoil faster or become inedible. Just bear some caution about ripping the plastic wrap or puncturing it, including with another MRE stored next to it in tight quarters. As long as you bear that in mind, then you will be fine with handling your MREs.

You can even easily pack them in a backpack or other bag when taking a trip somewhere. Some people even like to store a few in their vehicle just in case of a genuine emergency where they got stuck out away from home somewhere and cannot return home for an extended period of time. Whatever you decide to use your meals for, just remember they are great to have when you actually need one or a dozen of them to survive a certain situation you’re in, but they are only suggested to be eaten for 21 days straight and no more than that. Unless, of course, you take certain precautions for those real hard times when MRE meals are your only food option available for an extended amount of time.

What does an MRE taste like?

They come in a few different flavors/styles of food options to pick from, but do not expect the Taj Mahal of meals here, they were also designed to have a shelf-life of 5 to 10 years, depending on how they are stored during their lifetime. So, while the food will sustain you better than most other meals out there, many of which have it designed for you to cook them in some sort of way, they are not the greatest meal you will ever eat. Although, some of them are more than just decent, especially once you acquire a taste for them.

Heck, you may find one you actually enjoy eating, but you may have to try a few out in order to find those ones, and then, when you do, order a lot from that same supplier right away to make sure you get ones made from the same ingredients as yours, because they often change things up from run to run when manufacturing them. This means that if you wait too long, then you may order that same flavor, but they will be from a different batch that you might dislike.

It is a tricky game maintaining a stash of MREs around the house that everyone likes and it takes some time and trial & error mistakes along the way. Just don’t fret about them too much, because another one of their fantastic features is that they are relatively affordable when compared to many other survival food options you have to pick from.

What comes in an MRE?

In an MRE package comes a few unique items and some you may not expect. Here is a list of what you will typically find when you pop open an MRE package and pull out all the contents:

  1. First is the Entrée, which is made with either chicken, pork, or beef mostly. These can be the treat of the MRE and what you enjoy most.
  2. Next, you have the side dish. This is a starch of some sort like rice, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, fruit, or other similar food items. It is there to give you the right fiber and carbs that you need to maintain a healthy diet full of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
  3. The third item in the MRE is the energy bar. This is more like a calorie bar, and it is what sets the calorie count for the MRE high enough that it can support all of a trooper’s needs while they are out on a mission for multiple days.
  4. Then, there is the desert. This is where things get good because you can get any of many desert options in your MREs.
  5. Also, there is a drink mix of some sort that you can add to whatever water you have to make something that will boost your morale, like coffee, Gatorade type sports drink mixes, tea, or a few other options too.
  6. Plus, the MRE comes with a heating aspect so you can warm up the main dish and make it a real treat. These are typically chemical heaters of some sort that require no burning of any kind to cook your food.
  7. There is also a candy of some sort. Usually your MRE will include a small packet of M&Ms or Skittles. This is in addition to the pound cake or cookie dessert that is also included.
  8. Depending on the dish inside, there can be any of several items. Things like Tabasco sauce, salt, pepper, a spoon, toilette paper, or other similar type items filling up the rest of the empty space in the MRE package.

Are MREs Healthy?

Your typical MRE was made to supply a foot soldier with all the required nutrition to carry on marching with gear on for days on end, sometimes with little-if any-sleep. The calorie count comes in at around 1250, so a person eating three MREs a day will have had more than enough calories to sustain their excessive efforts and all the food it fortified with vital vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that a human body needs to sustain itself through extremely tough times.

It is enough to know that an MRE has everything you need to carry on, fully healthy, during dire circumstances sometimes, but add to that all the extra nutrients and things that they fortify all the food with. It is an incredibly exact science that expert nutritionists have spent countless hours figuring out exactly what every body needs to maintain and sustain itself when you have no other food options available.

Benefits of eating MREs

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The benefits to having some MREs of your own stored somewhere you can easily get to them in times of crisis are drastic. When the SHTF one of the first things to go away is your local grocery store. They are all on a system now called Just In Time Delivery that keeps their inventory supply of any item very, very low. This means when there is a mad rush of people trying to stock up on food because things are bad and getting worse out there, then the stores will sell out quickly and have nothing left to sell you and no trucks showing up soon with more food.

So, you must be able to sustain and depend on yourself when disaster strikes. This prepping includes stocking up on a two-week supply of food for everyone in your household as a general rule of thumb. Many people have dedicated a chest freezer in their garage to storing their MREs for emergency usage. After the power goes out and the freezer is no longer cooling, the shelf-life of the MRE package drops the warmer it gets, but that is okay because you will probably eat through your supply during this time while you plan and figure out your next move to stay alive during these crazy times.

Otherwise, people just store boxes of MREs in their garage somewhere and just inspect them after 3 and then after another 2 years as well, just to make sure that there is no spoilage going on and knowing when they are nearing the end of their shelf life so you can replenish your stores of them at home. Some people even toss a couple in their vehicle’s trunk, especially when about to take a long journey driving somewhere because you never know when you’re going to break down or experience another emergency issue and need some food to eat in a pinch.

What this boils down to is that the major benefit of eating MREs is survival. This means that becoming prepared to survive the next disaster in your area includes stocking up on a supply of survival food and having one that you do not need to cook except to warm up the Entrée if you so choose is important because you never know what you will have available to you to use to prepare emergency food supplies that require cooking to reconstitute the food into something presentable or even tasty.

Not only will you survive an unpleasant situation, but you will thrive in it and have enough energy to maintain the rest of your living situation to the best of your abilities. This is because of the balanced nutritional plan factor that MREs have inherent in their design.

MRE Shelf life: Do MREs expire?

Yes, MREs expire, and once you understand how to read their expiration date, you will be better prepared to rotate your food storage out every few years. They are made so that as long as they are maintained in a climate of no more than 75 degrees Fahrenheit, then they will last for 5 years typically.

There are other factors involved, but that is the key sticking point of these types of emergency or survival food items. If you live in a very hot climate, then you may replenish your stockpile much more often than you want to, unless of course you find yourself a reliable and cheap chest freezer that doesn’t eat up much electricity to store your MRE supplies in and have them last up to 10 years or more by maintaining a quality environment for them that keeps them from spoiling.

So temperature is an enormous factor in an MREs shelf-life and knowing if yours has been well maintained before you got it is possible with a seemingly insignificant item that many people discard without ever even knowing what it is. It is the two little pieces of cardstock paper stuck together and they come somewhere in your MRE’s packaging. What this does is give you an accurate representation of how well kept your supplies have been until you got them.

The way it works is that there are two circles in the paper that are supposed to be different shades. If the outer one is a much lighter shade than the inner one, then you know your MREs have been well kept and probably even refrigerated, at the very least. But if the shades are reversed, then you immediately know that your MRE is on its way out the door in terms of freshness and the more extreme the color difference, the more concerned you should be about eating that batch of MREs still.

Why do MREs last so long?

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The reason MREs last as long as they do is that they were scientifically designed to do just that. To be a food source that doesn’t go bad and can be easily transported from place to place in an emergency was a very attractive and important part of military planning for operations outside your home territory, mostly—there are some troops training within our boarders that are surviving on MREs right now, so they are not only eaten overseas.

All the food items within an MRE have been made to stay fresh for years upon years, and it is what makes these emergency meals so attractive for supplying your preppers paradise. Although, everyone should stock up and take care of their family’s needs before they become physical needs like hunger. So, the old reputation preppers have gotten is a bad rap really, because in reality every single one of us should prepare ourselves for the worst to happen.

We don’t know if it will be man made or a fully natural disaster that we will encounter in our future, and with the current social climate anything could set off the powder keg toward disaster. This means the time to prepare has come and everyone needs to listen up and take notice of the realities we now face in the world today.

Can you eat expired MREs?

We strongly encourage you to toss out any questionable MREs you may come across. You can tell by sight and smell if your food is still fresh or if there is some sort of contaminate that got into the packaging during storage. If your MRE seems find, then it probably is. Plus, you can always use the paper indicator to see how close to expiring that individual MRE is right now.

As long as you check your MREs around the inspection date printed on the packaging and take notice of any alterations or changes in the look, feel, smell, and anything else. Make sure that you take notice of everything about an MRE that is all packaged up and what it can/will tell you about the quality of the food inside of it still.

Once you are on top of the aspects of keeping a stockpile of MREs around the home, just in case you need to feed your family and have no other options available to you in that moment, then things will come easily and checking up on your stockpile once every few months even is a good practice to engage in. Be ready to replace the entire stockpile once every 5 years, give or take a few years depending on individual storage conditions during an MREs lifetime.

That is all there is to MREs, and the last tip we have is for those who end up needing to sustain themselves for longer than the recommended limit of 21 days on solid MRE intake. If you need to go beyond this limit and continue eating them because they are all you have, then just remember to watch out for a few health issues. The main one being extreme constipation from the highly nutrient packed food that is very rich and somewhat lacking in quality fiber. You can easily fix this by finding some supply of wild vegetable to pick and eat with your MRE meals. Adding this small course to your meal plan can keep you running smoothly and full of vigor.

Finally, if you go beyond the 21 day limit, then monitor your stools, urine changes, energy fluctuations, cramping, or other health changes that you think might be related to the prolonged exposure to the nutrient packed food items. This will help keep you safe and healthy should your situation be more dire than any of us would ever like to experience.

Other Readings

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