How Long Do MREs Last? Ready to Eat Meal Prep 101

how long do mres last

We all know we need water, food, and shelter to survive. In today’s society, we’re overly dependent upon strangers for our food. If there is a significant disruption to the supply chain, the grocery stores could have empty shelves within hours, which will leave millions of people hungry.

That’s why it’s essential to have a stockpile of food that will last several years. Meals Ready to Eat or MREs are one of the best solutions to this problem because they last a lot longer than the food in your fridge. 

How long do MREs last? When stored in ideal conditions, they can last more than ten years. However, there are always other factors to consider that can cause an MRE to expire faster than expected. 

MREs last 5-10 years

How Long Do MREs Last? 

The factors that affect how long MREs last are the same as any other food. Even though MREs are sealed, the temperature, air, and water can all have detrimental effects on MREs that shorten MREs’ shelf life.

The MRE might only last a few months when stored at high temperatures such as 100+ degrees Fahrenheit or direct sunlight. When stored at 75 degrees Fahrenheit, the MRE shelf life is usually three to five years. To have an MRE last longer than five years, it must be stored in a cool, dry area. 

When do MREs expire? Technically, there is no MRE expiration date; a date stamped on the packaging indicates the day it was packaged, so you can check it after three years to ensure the package hasn’t been damaged, allowing air or moisture to come into contact with the contents.

If I’m starving, I want to know how long do MRE meals last because the check date suggests that the food might be spoiled. So you can’t always go off of the three-year check date. I wouldn’t hesitate to eat a ten-year-old MRE in desperate situations as long as the packaging was good and it smelled normal once I opened it. 

We cover how to check if an MRE is still good a little later in the article.

How to Make MREs Last Longer? 

How long do MREs last? Not long enough! That’s why we try to find ways to make them last longer. The length in which an MRE lasts is primarily dependent on how or where you store it. Storing them in direct sunlight or hot and humid conditions will drastically shorten how long an MRE lasts. So keeping MREs off of the ground and out of direct sunlight will be a step in the right direction for making MREs last longer.

Freezing

While freezing will help an MRE last longer, what happens when the power goes out? If the MRE freezes and thaws multiple times, it will weaken the integrity of the packaging, causing it to expire quicker. So if you plan to freeze your MREs, keep them frozen until you plan to eat them.

Ideal Temperatures

The ideal temperature range to store an MRE is below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping your MRE’s at temperatures above freezing but below 60 degrees Fahrenheit can be the difference in it lasting only a couple of years to lasting a decade or longer. 

During a survival situation, it’s doubtful you will have these options available to keep your MRE’s in edible condition, so let’s discuss the best ways to store your MREs currently and in a life-threatening scenario.

Best Ways to Store MREs 

Storing MREs doesn’t have to be complicated. If you can dedicate the space in your freezer to your stockpile, then do it. Don’t worry if you don’t have the room; there are a few other worthwhile locations. No matter the place, you always want to keep MREs off of the ground.

Freezer

As we mentioned above, freezing your MRE’s will make them last longer, and you won’t have to worry about rodents getting to your stockpile. Freezer burn isn’t a genuine concern unless there is a tear or puncture in the packaging, making freezing MRE’s one of the best storage options.

The two main problems are when the power goes out and the MRE’s thaw and refreeze after the power comes back on it will shorten the shelf life of the MRE’s and the other problem is the MRE’s are taking up space that could be dedicated to the food you eat daily.

Refrigerator

Another excellent storage option is storing MRE’s in a refrigerator. This keeps them cool, out of direct sunlight, and out of the reach of rodents, but once again, you’re taking up space that could be used for the food you’ll eat this week.

Pantry/ Closet

Your pantry or closet is also a place to store MRE’s since it’s out of direct sunlight and temperature controlled. Keeping your MREs off of the ground on a shelf or food rack will deter rodents from trying to find out what’s inside the packages. If you must store them on the floor, rodents shouldn’t bother them because they are sealed, but it’s always best to be safe rather than sorry. 

Garage

If your garage is temperature-controlled, then clearing a space for your food stockpile would be a wise investment of your time. Your MREs are protected best in a plastic tote stored on a shelf in your garage. If your garage is not temperature controlled, it should be the place of last resort for storing MRE’s.

Basement

Your basement could be an excellent place to store your MRE’s if it’s dry and stays cool. Once again, you’ll need to keep them off of the ground and in a plastic container of some kind for an added layer of protection.

Underground Bunker

If you dare to be stereotypical, then the single best place to store MRE’s would be the freezer in your temperature-controlled underground bunker powered by a solar generator. This way, you’re off the grid if the power goes out, and hopefully, only the people you trust are aware of the location of the bunker so that you won’t have others accidentally discovering your stash of food. 

The main problems would be how far your bunker is from your home and ensuring the generator functions. If you live in the suburbs, burying a bunker in your backyard without the neighbors noticing is nearly impossible, so that you would need land away from the hustle and bustle of the city. If you live in a rural area burying a bunker nearby is much more feasible. 

Wilderness Storage

Your options will be severely limited in storage options in a survival situation. Hence, while MRE’s are an excellent mid-term supplement, they are not a long-term replacement for natural food. That’s why knowing how to fish and having the best survival fishing gear can save your life.

The rules haven’t changed. You will need to find a cool, dry place, preferably off the ground. If that’s not possible, keeping the MRE’s in your backpack is the next best option.

How to Know if an MRE Has Gone Bad 

Figuring out if an MRE has expired isn’t difficult using your senses. Like other food in your refrigerator, you can usually tell by looking at the package, smelling, or tasting the food.

How to Tell by Looking

Look for damage to the package or if it is unusually swollen with air. The air could indicate the presence of harmful bacteria. If the wrapping has been ripped or punctured, it’s likely the food inside is no good. 

Then check the inspection date; if you’re within three to five years, you won’t have anything to worry about; as time marches on past five years, then you should resort to the smell test.

How to Tell by Smelling

We can move on to the smell test if the package passes the sight test. Suppose the MRE smells weird before taking it out of the packaging. That’s a red flag for me because it will probably smell worse once you remove it. Once you open it, don’t expect it to smell like mama’s home cooking, but it definitely shouldn’t have a foul or spoiled smell.

How to Tell by Tasting

MRE’s are not known for their delicious tastes, so don’t be surprised if it doesn’t taste great. However, if it’s spoiled, then I recommend not eating it. It’s not worth risking an illness. You can find other food sources.

Now that we know if the MRE is good, let’s figure out how to eat it.

How to Eat an MRE

An MRE is a Meal Ready to Eat, so essentially you can remove it from the package and begin eating the contents. However, if you have the time and energy, there are better ways to consume an MRE.

Some MRE’s come with a flameless heater that’s activated with a small amount of water. The flameless heater is a bag where you place the food pouch inside and then fill the line with water. The bag has a heat pack activated by the water and warms up your food. 

How to Heat an MRE Using a Flameless Heater

Step 1– Open the heating bag and place your food pouch inside.

Step 2– Add water to the fill line of the heating bag.

Step 3– Seal off the bag’s opening by rolling it and tilting it to ensure the water fully activates the heat pack.

Step 4–  Set the bag in a safe place where the heat can reach all the food.

Step 5– Let it sit for at least 10-15 minutes.

Step 6– Remove the food and let it cool to an edible temperature.

Step 7– Enjoy your meal!

If you don’t have a flameless heater, don’t worry; there are several other ways to warm up your MRE.

Boil the Food Pouch

Hopefully, you have a pot handy to boil some water. Drop the food pouch in the boiling water for several minutes and take it out once it’s warm enough for you to consume. While this is the best option, in my opinion, it’s also the most time-consuming because you must build a fire, wait for the water to boil, and wait for the food to heat up.

Directly Heat the Food

Throw the meal onto a pan or in a pot and warm it up over the fire. Remember, you don’t need to cook the MRE. You’re just heating it. So you don’t have to have a sizzling hot pan. This method is nice because you don’t have to wait for the water to boil, but you risk burning your meal.

Use Hot Rocks or Coals

Maybe you’re in an actual survival situation and don’t have a pot or pan. You can still heat your meal using rocks or the coals from your fire. Set the stones near the fire and place your food (still in the package) against the rocks so the heat transfers from the rocks to your meal.

Use a Car Engine

Suppose you don’t have a fire but have a functioning car. Turn the car on and set your food (still in the package) on the top of the engine. Check to make sure you’re not placing it in the pathway of a belt, and then let it sit for a little while to warm your food! If you have an electric car, this won’t work.

Use the Sun

Using the sun is slow, so find a dark or metal surface to help speed the process up. Set your MRE (still in the package) on the dark surface and let the sun work its magic. This method won’t get your meal piping hot, but it will be better than eating it cold.

Use Your Body Heat

The last option is using your body to heat your food. This method doesn’t warm your food any hotter than your body, but it’s much better than trying to eat a frozen MRE. Place the MRE close to your body, and then put a coat or other warm clothing on to trap the heat. I recommend having at least a T-shirt as a layer between your skin and the MRE.

How to Buy MREs 

MRE’s are expensive, so finding a good deal to stock up on them is essential. Buying in bulk is one way to save money but be sure to have plenty of room to store them when you buy bulk. 

Don’t worry if you can’t afford to buy in bulk; you can buy a couple at a time with every paycheck and build your stockpile that way. 

Buying in Bulk

The best bulk buy we could find is the MRE Combo Case

Buying Small Quantities

This Assorted Four Pack of MRE’s has an inspection date of 2021

If you’re still unsure about Meals Ready to Eat, the Assorted Two Pack of MRE’s is an excellent product with which to begin.

Final Thoughts

For those of you wondering how long are MREs good for, you now know they can last up to ten years under ideal circumstances, but on average, MREs have a shelf life of three to five years. 

Asking the question, “how long do MREs last?” is understandable because they cost at least ten dollars apiece when you break it down. At that price, you want the MRE to last you as long as possible because each one has enough calories for one meal for one person; if you’re exerting a lot of energy, then you’ll consume three of them a day; if not, you could settle for two a day.

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