Survival 101: When Are MRE’s NOT Safe to Eat?

Some people like MREs, and some people hate them.  If you’re like most people, however, you find them a palatable and portable way of carrying your food supply with you while camping, fishing, hunting, or, if you’re in the military, while either out on maneuvers or deployed.
Each MRE provides an average of 1,250 calories (13% protein, 36% fat, and 51% carbohydrates) and 1/3 of the Military Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins and minerals.  A full day’s worth of meals would consist of three MREs.  Commanders, please take note:  Cutting MREs to two per day is not an effective way to help your troops lose weight or look slender.  All it does is deprive them of the basic energy and nutrition requirements they need to fight the war.  Don’t skimp on your troops.  Instead, support them.  Given them what they need to do their job.
If you have a bunch of MRE’s on hand, here’s a handy date/time converter into which you can enter the 4-number code on any individual component, package, box, or entire lot, and it will spit out the manufactured date.
 
The website also contains a good time/temp chart, along with suggestions for how and when to know when you’re better off disposing of them.
 
My Suggestions (born of both information and personal experience):
 
1. Always store MREs in the coolest place in your home, so long as they remain above freezing.
2.  Leave individual components of an MRE fully sealed in its plastic MRE bag until you’re ready to eat that MRE.  The components are well-protected in the main bag, but are subject to breach when taken out of their protective environment.
 
2. Do NOT freeze them, unless you plan on keeping them frozen right up until you need to eat them. MRE’s that have been frozen should be marked with a big question mark.  Freezing an MRE retort pouch (the component rectangular plastic and aluminum containers of food) does not destroy the food inside, but repeated freezing increases the chances that the stretching and stressing of the pouch will cause a break in a layer of the laminated pouch.
 
3. Use and do not exceed the recommended shelf life. Officially, how long MREs last depends on how long and at what temperatures they are stored. At a minimum, they should last 1 month when stored at 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius). Or they could last 5 years at 50 °F (10 °C).  The current nomenclature states, “The shelf life of the MRE is three (3) years at 80 ° Fahrenheit.  However, the shelf life can be extended through the use of cold storage facilities prior to distribution.” (Source)
 
4. NEVER use the old Shelf Life chart.  It was wrong, and people have DIED.  That’s why the U.S. Government no longer publishes it for use.  
 
5. NEVER accept anecdotal evidence about how someone “regularly eats MREs that are a dozen years old.” That’s stupid. That’s stupid people have DIED. Don’t be stupid.
 
6. If you’re in a survival situation where you have no choice but to eat it beyond it’s shelf life as indicated on the NEW chart, then very carefully inspect each component packet, toss any which even might have been compromised, insert the packet(s) into a covered pot of boiling water for 30 minutes, remove, cool, carefully smell the opened contents, tossing anything even remotely questionable, and only then eat the darn things.
7.  Given the stated shelf life (3 years at 80 deg F), if you store MREs at home, you should be rotating them in and out of stock no longer than every three years.  Given the fact you might have to survive on them for quite a while, you might consider a one-year max rotation.  That is, you should be eating through and replacing your entire stock of MREs every year.  If you actually have an entire year’s worth of MREs, well, I hope you like high blood pressure and constipation!
One thing everyone should remember is that they’re not the best survival food on the planet.  In fact, our friends over at Patriot Headquarters (no affiliation with either patriot or RYOC), list 10 Reasons Not to Eat MREs, all of which have some merit in various circumstances.
Regardless, MREs remain a durable, trustworthy option for portable food requirements in most circumstances, easily used in the field with little or no preparation (other than tearing into the package)
Bon Appétit!

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