Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), such as one you can buy from us, are a type of long shelf-life meal that are designed to be quite calorie dense and also to be nutritionally complete. The military uses MREs as emergency rations, but there are other reasons why people would use them, and on the consumer market they are popular with people who want to prepare for emergencies. They are also used by survivalists who want to have durable, long-lasting but filling food on hand for their trips.

MREs are not designed for long-term use such as for couple years. They are nutritionally complete and are intended to keep an adult male going in terms of calories for a short period of time, but if someone were to eat them for more than a week or so, the lack of fibre in them could lead to some gastric distress. They can be quite tasty though, and they will keep a person healthy.

Preparing an MRE

Cooking an MRE is very easy. They are sold with everything you need to prepare them, except for water. To prepare your meal, you should open the packet and take everything out of it. Fill the packet up with water, and then place the heater package into it. Let the heater package react with the water and start to warm up for a minute or so, then place the entree into the packet, fold the top of the packet over to trap the steam. Stand the packed up against a heat resistant surface, and let the steam work its magic.

Leave the MRE to cook for however long the directions on the packet said. Usually, it will be about ten minutes. When it is ready, you can open the wrapper then open the entree packet and start eating.

MREs are designed to be eaten hot or cold. You will not get sick if you eat a cold one. However, they taste much better if they are eaten warm, and hot MREs seem to feel more filling, especially in a survival situation. It's not that they are categorically more nutritious, but rather that eating warm food helps to warm the body, and it has, for a long time, been a cultural norm, so it is good for morale too. When you're cold, wet and feeling scruffy because you've been sleeping on grass for a while little things like a hot meal can make all the difference.

How to Tell if an MRE is Safe to Eat

MREs are designed to last for years if they are kept cool, dry and undamaged. However, if they are exposed to very hot temperatures, they may decay more quickly. If the packet gets pierced, then they should be disposed of immediately.

MREs are not designed to last indefinitely, but because they are so shelf-stable, they are not labelled with a best-before date the way that other foods are. They have a date on them that is the date of packaging. Most modern MREs have a shelf life of 60 months when kept at 60 degrees. It's unlikely that your MREs will be kept at that temperature. If you keep your MREs at 80 degrees, the shelf life falls to 36 months or 3 years. That's still a fairly long time for a 'wet' meal, though.

Older MREs that contained freeze-dried ingredients had a shelf life of up to 10 years, and there are videos of people eating MREs that were packaged as long ago as 30 years ago and not getting sick. However, they were eating dry packed MRE meals which needed to be rehydrated. These meals are much more shelf-stable than the modern wet ones, but they didn't taste as good and generally weren't as nutritious.

If you have some older MREs and are not sure whether they are safe to eat, then you should look at the date code on them. This date format can be confusing to read at first. There are tables online that will show you what the codes mean. The first digit represents the year, so 6 indicates that the MRE was made in 2016. There is no need for it to say '16' because the expected lifespan of an MRE is shorter than a decade so in theory, an MRE made in 2006 will already have been disposed of by 2017 and an MRE made in 2016 will be thrown away or used by 2027.

The next three digits represent the day, with 001 meaning January 1st, 002 indicating January 2nd and so on.

So, let's assume you have an MRE that was made in mid-2014. Is it safe to eat? At the time of writing that MRE would be a little over four years old, so even if it was kept in optimum conditions, it would be nearing the end of its life.

Before you prepare an MRE, it's a good idea to look at the packet and to examine the spot/circle that shows how well the MRE was stored. The darkness of the spot in the middle shows you if the meal is safe. If the inner part of the circle is lighter than the outer, the meal is probably safe, if it is darker, discard it. If the package has swollen, discard it.