Many people associate MREs, or meals-ready-to-eat, with the military. While MREs may have originated as military rations, they are now used for a variety of purposes ranging anywhere from camping to emergency preparedness. Realistically, most civilian consumers don't know enough about MREs to make educated buying decisions—this can lead to significant dissatisfaction and negative sentiment about the value of MREs for long-term food storage. Our goal in this article is to answer all the common MRE-related questions and to reiterate that everyone should have at least a few MREs on hand at all times. Take a few minutes now to learn all you can about MREs and how they can help keep you and your family fed and independent from government assistance in the event of a disaster.
What Are MREs?
MREs or “meals ready to eat” are processed foods stored in a durable plastic pouch called “retort packaging”. Retort packaging is aluminum foil and plastic layered together to form an impermeable barrier. An MRE typically consists of precooked food that is inserted into a pouch and sealed in a clean environment. The MRE pouch is then heated for sterilization purposes. A sealed MRE pouch will last for long periods of time because it has been heated; it will keep out bacteria, which helps prevent food from spoiling.
MREs taste very similar to canned stews or canned chili and are very palatable to most people. Retort packaging can be used for beverages, as well. The drinks come in flexible pouches and are made in the same way as MRE entrees or side dishes.
Civilian MREs Versus Military MREs
The commercial sale of military MREs is restricted. Acquiring military grade MREs in bulk and reselling them to the public is, remarkably, a crime (this is intended to prevent large quantities of American-made MREs from feeding foreign armies or military entities). It is not recommended that you attempt to buy military MREs via eBay or from other resellers who may be selling old, spoiled, or possibly fake military MRE products. Additionally, military MREs may have been in war-torn desert regions for years before being sold on eBay. MREs can withstand high temperature; however, it significantly reduces their shelf life.
When buying a civilian MRE, you will know exactly where it came from, that it's fresh, that it's a genuine product, and that you are receiving quality goods (assuming you have purchased your MREs from a reputable dealer).
How to Use an MRE
1. Open the MRE package. An MRE can be eaten hot or cold because the food has been precooked.
2. If you prefer, heat your MRE. You can do this in [one of several ways]. You can use a flameless ration heater (FRH) or an MRE heater. All you have to do is add about an ounce of water to activate the heating process. If you don't have an MRE heater, you can put the pouch in boiling or hot water for five minutes, or lay it on a rock in the sun until it’s warm.
3. Remove your MRE from its heating source and allow it to cool down. Then tear it open at the perforated edge and enjoy.
The Shelf Life of an MRE
Determining the shelf life of an MRE has many variables. Usually an MRE is good for about seven to 10 years or longer depending on how it's stored. However, if an MRE is stored at temperatures higher than 75 degrees, the shelf life is shortened to three to five years or less, depending on the temperature at which the MRE was stored. [The cooler the storage temperature, the longer your MREs will last.] The higher the storage temperature, the shorter the shelf life will be.
The Standard Contents of an MRE
The contents of an MRE can vary depending on where and how you purchase them. However, the standard contents are as follows:
A side dish
A small snack or a dessert
Saltines or sometimes bread
Some spreadable cheese
Peanut butter or jelly
Powdered drink mix, such as fruit, coffee, tea, cocoa, sports drink or a daily shake
An MRE heater
Accessory pack, which could include gum, water-resistant matches, napkins, moist wipes, salt, pepper, sugar, creamer and Tabasco sauce
The Nutritional Value of an MRE
The nutrition standards for MREs have been designed to meet the specifications that the Department of Defense requires for U.S. military rations. Most MRE entrees have 250-350 calories, whereas full MRE meals have 1,200-1,300 calories and are very high in carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. They are considered nutritionally balanced for extreme environmental situations, which is perfect for emergencies. Oftentimes, vitamins and minerals are added to help meet the recommended daily nutritional allowances. Therefore, many food items are fortified with vitamins A, C, B, calcium, and iron. However, those nutritional values can only be met if the entire meal is eaten (versus just the entrée).
MREs Versus Freeze-Dried Meals
The basic ingredients of an MRE and a freeze-dried meal are the same. The main differences are that MREs have been pre-prepared whereas freeze-dried meals require rehydration with water when you are ready to eat them.
Should You Buy MREs in Bulk?
Determining how many meals you will need depends on your individual circumstances, such as how many people you have in your family, their ages, and their activity levels. What time frame are you considering? How much can you afford? And how much storage is available to you? For more accurate calculations, it's best to use a food storage analyzer tool.
How to Properly Store an MRE
1. MREs should be stored in boxes or in hard plastic containers to protect them against pests, rodents, and moisture damage.
2. Keep your MREs in a cool, dry, dark place (always out of direct sunlight).
3. Try to keep your MREs in a storage area with consistent temperatures. Any temperature fluctuations can potentially degrade their quality over time.
4. The cooler the storage temperature, the longer the shelf life will be.
5. Freezing an MRE is acceptable; however, you will need to eat it as soon as it has thawed. MREs quickly lose their shelf life once they have been thawed.
How to Buy Quality MREs Online
Buying your MREs online, from a reputable source, is essential if you want to ensure the health and safety of your family. There are plenty of “fly by night” companies that produce and peddle MRE products that are old and sometimes fake. Don't fall for these scams. You can do that by staying away from places like eBay, Craigslist, and flea markets when purchasing MREs.
Finding MREs for sale online isn't hard, but you should do a little research before you make any buying decisions. To find an online vendor who sells quality products, look for one who has an established online presence, a satisfaction guarantee, a reasonable return policy, a low-price guarantee, and a warranty offer. You should also look for a company that has a knowledgeable customer service department available to answer all your questions and offer any other assistance you need.
Once you have found a company that meets the criteria listed above, you can rest assured you have found a reputable company that sells quality products and can back them up by confidently offering you your money back if you're not 100% satisfied.