MRE Shelf Life and Stockpiling MREs

   08.17.18

MRE Shelf Life and Stockpiling MREs

When the topic of stockpiling food comes up, sure enough someone will ask about stockpiling MREs. Shortly after MREs are brought up, someone will point out MRE shelf life.

Somewhere along the conversation someone will say, “I ate one of my grandpas MREs he brought home from Vietnam.”

With modern food processing it is rare for a food item to go bad, as in bacteria growing in the can.  Science understands what processes have to take place to ensure all bacteria inside the packaging are killed.

However, there is one thing science can not help, and that is the taste of food degrading over time.  Generally, the “Best By” date is when the food tastes the best, and not when is spoils.

From the United States Department of Agriculture – Food Product Dating.

Examples of commonly used phrases:

A “Best if Used By/Before” indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.

A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula as described below.

MRE Shelf Life

Assorted military rations MREs

On each case of MREs will be a red tag, which will be a square with a circle inside of a circle. The two circles will have contrasting shades of red. One of the circles will change to match the other circle. The color changes over time, or when exposed to heat.

Where MREs are stored drastically affects their quality. If stored in a backyard shed without climate control, the red tag will change colors faster than if they MREs were stored in a basement or closet.

If I remember right, one week above 90 degrees takes something like one month off the life expectancy. In the context of this article, life expectancy is the overall quality of the MRE and how well it tastes.

Using the example from the United States Department of Agriculture we know food rarely “goes bad” when packaged with modern food processing technology.  However, tastes dos degrade over time.  So yes, there is a chance someone ate an MRE that was decades old, but chances are the meal did not taste very good.

Stockpiling MREs

In the grand scheme of things, should preppers stockpile MREs?

One on hand we have:

  • Cost
  • Bulk
  • Limited shelf life (as compared to freeze dried food)
  • Weight

The other hand we have:

  • Grab and go convenience
  • All in one packaging

In the end we are faced with a conundrum. The grab and go convenience is wonderful, but the price makes stockpiling MREs cost prohibitive.  This means there is no definitive answer.

Does the reader need a meal they can grab and go?  How often does the reader go hiking, camping, fishing… where they may spend all day away from home?  Even then, someone could just make a peanut butter sandwich and toss a few snacks in their backpack.

Between the 1990s and the mid-2000s MREs were my go-to meal for hiking, fishing, and camping.  From the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s MREs have slowly been replaced with Mountain House freeze dried meals.

The answer to stockpiling MREs will be left to the reader to decide for themselves.

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