MREs? What Are Those Things?

MRE Pouch

An MRE Pouch

MREs, which are pronounced as separate letters M, R, E, stands for Meals-Ready-to-Eat. They were originally created to replace the old C and K Rations used by the military. MREs were also developed for use by U.S. soldiers in combat conditions and for humanitarian food missions around the world.

In the civilian world, MRE’s are used by backpackers, campers, hunters, and for home and business emergency food reserves. Unlike freeze dried foods and dehydrated foods, MRE’s require no water and there is no waiting for rehydration. The special flexible foil retort pouch used in making MREs is composed of multiple laminations of aluminum foil and plastic film. Because of their rugged durability and ease of stowing, the MRE pouch has earned the well-deserved nickname the flexible can.

Each complete MRE meal provides a generous 1200 to 1400 calories per meal. Most MREs meals currently offered on the market are civilianized versions and use a combination of both military MRE components, i.e, entree and side dishes, with the addition of commerical components such as snack items and accessory packet. The Civilianized MREs are much more affordable and typically cost about $6.00 vs. $10.00 each for the military versions. Most come packed 12 meals to a case.

Generally, each Civilian MRE Complete Meal Pouch includes the following things:

  • Soda type crackers and a spread, like cheese, peanut butter or jelly as an appetizer.
  • A main course entree, like Meatloaf, Chicken & Noodles, Turkey Tetrazinni, Veggie Burger, Clam Chowder, Egg Omlette, Western Beans etc.
  • A side dish such as fruit, rice, soup or potatoes.
  • A type of dessert, snack, or candy.
  • An accessory packet which includes: matches, spoon, wet wipe, salt, pepper, coffee and sweetener (some may include an alternative powdered drink, too).

How Long Will MRE’s Last?

Most MRE manufacturers state a shelf-life of 4 to 6 years. Actual shelf-life may vary from this estimate depending on a variety of factors. Like all storable foods, a key factor affecting shelf-life is the temperature of the storage environment. Storage at temperatures higher than 85°F may shorten the shelf-life of MREs. On the other hand, lowering the storage temperature will help extend the shelf-life. An NATIC study noted that nutritional value and safety value of the products often extended far beyond the normal time points.

In addition, freezing an MRE Retort Pouch will not destroy the food inside. However, repeated freezing increases the chance that the pouch may cause a pouch lamination failure. These pouches are made to withstand 1,000 flexes, but repetitive freezing does increase the failure rate by a small fraction of a percent.

What Specs were MRE’s Designed to Meet?

MRE pouches have been extensively tested by the U.S. Military and designed to a higher standard than normal store-bought foods. Here are some of the requirements they were made to meet:

  • 100% survival rate from a military cargo parachute drop.
  • A survival rated of at least 75% in the event of a air cargo parachute failure.
  • Survive under the harshest of weather conditions.
  • Withstand extreme soldier field abuse.
  • Handle outdoor storage anywhere in the world.
  • Pass 7,000 individual pouch drops from 20 inches.
  • Be able to withstand a static load of 200 pounds for three minutes.

What do MRE’s Taste Like?

Opinions vary all over the map on this question. Just like store-bought canned goods, you either like them or you don’t. They do taste very similar to canned foods. Some people love eating MREs so much they have them for lunch several times a week. However, some soldiers say that MREs really stand for Meals-Rejected-by-Ethiopians. They are not gourmet foods, but hey, they still are very good overall. The convenience is tough to beat.

Are MREs Like Dehydrated Foods or Freeze Dried Foods?

No. MREs are totally different. Unlike dehydrated or freeze dried foods, which both require water to reconstitute them, MREs are precooked in the pouch and retain their full moisture like canned food items, just with a much longer shelf-life.

Can MREs be Eaten Cold?

Yes. The main MRE entrees, such as Beef Steak, Chicken with Noodles, Turkey Breast, etc., require no cooking prior to eating. Each MRE entree can be eaten cold, directly from the pouch. Eating MREs cold is just like eating from a store-bought canned food item. They are always better when warmed up. Just tear open the pouch and eat straight out of it, anytime, anywhere!

What’s the Best Way to Warm/Heat Up an MRE?

MRE pouches can be heated-up in a variety of different ways. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Use a Water-Activated MRE Flameless Instant Heater Pads or use a Mountain House “Mountain Oven®” Flameless Food Pouch Heating Kit.
  • Lay the foil pouch in direct sunlight, allowing the sun to warm it.
  • Place the pouch up against your body, allowing its radiated heat to warm the food inside.
  • Pouch contents can be squeezed into a bowl or plate and heated in a microwave oven.
  • The pouch can be laid on a warm surface, such as a warm engine block, to absorb the heat.
  • The sealed pouch can be placed in a pan of warm or hot water for 5-10 minutes. If you use hot water, be careful. The pouch can get very hot and cause burns.

No matter how you heat your MRE entree meal, the foil pouch is very strong and durable. However, it can be damaged if too high of a temperature is used. NEVER apply direct flame to the pouch like from a BBQ or campfire. The outer and inner layers of plastic laminate will melt and contaminate the food.

Is There Some Reason for the Tan & Green Colors of MREs?

The tan and green colors were selected to help provide low visibility in the field. Bright colors or shiny packages could unnecessarily giveaway a soldier’s position in the field.

Can MREs be used for Camping?

Yes! The ready-to-eat convenience of MREs make them ideal for use while backpacking, camping, hunting, boating and fishing.

Are MREs Good for Food Reserves and Emergency Preparedness?

MREs are a good choice for short term (1-3 months) food reserves. When is comes to Emergency Food Reserves, several considerations must be taken into account. The basic considerations are:

  1. What emergency are you preparing for (power blackout, earthquake, hurricane, terrorist attack, etc.).
  2. How long do you want to prepare for?


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