On MREs and Their Shelf Life

Wednesday, Oct 26, 2005

I'm often asked how long the U.S. Military "Meal Ready to Eat" (MRE) rations can be stored. SurvivalBlog reader "Mr. Tango" (BTW, don't miss reading his fascinating profile) had a round of correspondence with the U.S. Army's Natick Laboratories in Massachusetts, on the potential storage life of MREs. The data that they sent him was surprising! Here is the gist of it:

Degrees, Fahrenheit Months of Storage (Years)
120 1 month
110 5 months
100 22 months (1.8 years)
90 55 months  (4.6 years)
80 76 months  (6.3 years)
70 100 months  (8.3 years)
60 130 months  (10.8 years) -- See Note 3, below

Note 1: Figures above are based on date of pack, rather than inspection date.

Note 2: MREs near the end of their shelf life are considered safe to eat if:
   A.) They are palatable to the taste.
   B.) They do not show any signs of spoilage (such as swelled pouches.)
   C.) They have been stored at moderate temperatures. (70 degrees F or below.)

Note 3: Not enough data has yet been collected on storage below 60 degrees F. However projections are that the 130 month figure will be extended.

Note 4: Time and temperature have a cumulative effect. For example: storage at 100 degrees F for 11 months and then moved to 70 degrees F, you would lose one half of the 70 F storage life.

Note 5: Avoid fluctuating temperatures in and out of freezing level.

Jim's Comments: As with other storage foods, heat kills the shelf life of MREs in a hurry. So if you keep some "just in case" MREs in the trunk of your car, be sure to rotate them frequently. (Make sure that it is those MREs that you use for your hikes or hunting/camping/backpacking trips. For any large quantities of MREs that you intend to keep more than a year, be sure to store them in the coolest part of your house. The same applies to all of your other storage foods. The differential in temperature between the top shelf and the bottom shelf in your pantry room can be considerable. Reserve those upper shelves for heat-insensitive items like bottled water, salt, and paper products!)

The above cited figures are for palatability, not nutritive value. You should plan to supplement with a good quality double encapsulated multi-vitamin (such as VitaVim brand), good quality B-complex tablets, and 500 MG Vitamin C tablets. Vitamins should be stored in a cool, dark place for best shelf life. (Many tablets are light sensitive.) I recommend rotating your multi-vitamins and Vitamin C every 24 months, and the Vitamin B every 18 months. Remember that most of the fat, carbohydrates, and protein will still be available in MREs, even after many years of storage, but the vitamins won't. Plan accordingly.

Because MREs and other emergency foods are relatively high in bulk and low in fiber, this could lead to digestive problems. Therefore, I also highly recommend storing a bulk fiber supplement such as Metamucil with each case of MREs. Don't overlook this precaution!

In summary, I consider MREs a good short term/tactical food. For more info, including equivalents made for the armed forces of other nations, see: http://www.mreinfo.com. They are ideal to keep in your "Get Out of Dodge" (G.O.O.D.) packs.  However, they are very expensive, per meal.  The majority of your storage food dollars should be spent on bulk storage foods. Most of those should be purchased be in #10 cans and 5 gallon food grade storage buckets. Bulk storage foods are available from a number of vendors including:

Freeze Dry Guy
JRH Enterprises
Ready Made Resources
Safe Castle
Survival Enterprises
Walton Seed.
Live Oak Farms
AlpineAire Foods
Best Prices Inc. Storable Foods of Texas


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