MRE stands for Meal, Ready-to-eat and is a self-contained field ration in lightweight packaging that has the capability of being prepared quickly by either boiling water or some other heating method.
The meal provides an individual with all three major food groups: meat or fish, fruit or vegetables, bread cereals, or pasta.
This blog post will answer how long MRE lasts and how they can be stored safely without going bad.
What is MRE?
Meal, Ready-to-Eat (or Meal, Reheatable) are rations designed for quick consumption.
They include preassembled complete meals, with the main course and side dish, ready to eat or require water for preparation.
MREs were first created in 1973 by the U.S. Army as an improvement on earlier canned thermal-stabilized containers (called CTS) and became standard combat rations beginning in 1981: MRE consumption is not required at all times during military use of tactical feeding.
The earliest versions had strict menus with relatively low variety; later versions incorporated more food types but still have limited menus.
MREs are always heated by the individual soldier, either in a personal field kitchen or with an item known as an MRE heater—a disposable heat pack containing solid fuel to be lit and used as a stovetop burner.
Some versions of these rations can require some preparation before eating: adding condensed milk to make powdered coffee.
There have been two general types of pre-cooked foods issued: “long shelf life” (LSL), which is designed for storage without refrigeration but has less than three years actual shelf-life; and “short shelf time” (STR), with only about one year on average between production date and expiration date.
The main course typically includes meat products such as beef and chicken, with a side dish such as fruit or vegetables.
How to Store MRE?
MRE manufacturers do not include expiration dates on their products like standard food you might find in a supermarket does.
But MREs still have an expiration date.
It’s just that the product is designed to be packaged, so it sustains for a long while, and this means there’s no date stamped on the package of when it will expire.
The risk of spoilage is always present when storing food.
The military has researched and developed methods for MREs to be held in the worst temperatures without spoiling or degrading over time, so you can rest assured that your case will last a few years before it needs replacing.
The recommended storage temperature for the best quality and most extended shelf life of MREs is between 50° F (or lower) with no relative humidity.
This means you should keep your food away from heat sources like stoves, ovens, microwaves, fireplaces, and sunny windows.
The best way to do this is by storing the case inside another container that will protect it from moisture and help maintain cooler temps.
You can use Tupperware, bread boxes, and more to hold them so long as they are airtight.
How Long Does MRE Last? Does MRE Go Bad?
The MRE is one of the most popular foods on military bases.
The meals are known for their compact and self-contained design that can last up to five years without refrigeration or heating before they expire.
MREs last much longer if stored at 60° F.
The length of time decreases as the temperature increases.
If the MRE is stored at an average room temperature, it will only last for around three years.
Do not leave them in direct sunlight because it will cause degradation of some ingredients such as fats and proteins, which can lead to spoilage after six months on average.
Usually, the longer an MRE is in storage and age, the more its taste will worsen, and nutrition levels will drop.
However, some people reported that they could eat MREs that were ten or more (sometimes almost twenty) years old, and there was no change in taste.
Can You Freeze MRE?
Contrary to popular belief, MREs can’t be frozen.
The coolant inside them freezes at a shallow temperature and would cause the plastic containers to crack from expansion while in a freezer.
MRE’s are specially designed for long-term storage, so they’re packaged with enough water or other liquid to keep them edible for years on end – but that also means freezing isn’t going to work.
A better option is to store your MREs in an airtight container at a cool temperature before you use them.
This will preserve its flavor and make sure there’s no bacteria growth.
How to Tell if MRE is Bad?
No matter how long you store it, MREs will eventually go bad.
Some telling signs are:
- The outer packaging is no longer sealed.
- There’s visible mold or food particles on the outside of the package.
- A sour smell coming from within the pack, even if it looks like a fresh MRE. This might be because you stored it in extreme hot or cold temperatures.
You can rely on an MRE to have a shelf life of at least three years and as long as ten years, but flavors will diminish the longer they sit.
Those are just some guidelines to help determine whether an MRE has gone bad.
However, before eating any potential spoiled goods, always check with your doctor first and err on the side of caution.
Even though most things will go by taste test alone when determining whether they’ve gone bad enough to cause sickness, many more variables can affect this, so don’t risk getting sick unnecessarily.
Be safe, not sorry.
In conclusion, it’s tough to say when MRE goes bad.
The best thing you can do is check the expiration date for your particular bag and then try one out.
If it tastes like plastic, it leaves a weird aftertaste, smells funny, and doesn’t eat it.
You might be pleasantly surprised by how delicious our meals taste even after five years in storage.
With the proper storage techniques and some common sense usage habits from those who know better than us, these little packs can last much longer.