Does Freezing Extend MRE Shelf Life?
MRE Shelf Life is Short
Military MRE shelf life requirement is three and a half years at room temperature.
3 and a half years is not that great in context of mid to long-term storage.
For comparison, water lasts forever. So does honey, sugar and salt. Whole grains, if stored properly, last 20+ years. Canned goods and pasta often go 5+ years. See my disaster preparedness checklist for more.
Common belief is that it’s possible to extend MRE shelf life by freezing. This reduces the otherwise high cost of cycling stock.
Extending MRE Shelf Life By Freezing – Does It Work?
Freezing is ill advised not because of the food inside the MREs, but because of how the packaging is made. The problem is that the packaging may come apart and contaminate the food.
The pouches are made of multiple layers: one aluminum and two or three plastic.
These materials contract and expand at a different rate when freezing and thawing. This creates pressure buildup between the layers. The layers sooner or later separate. When the layers come apart the bag leaks, ruining the food inside.
Worst of all, you won’t know your MREs inedible, until you actually need it!
Imagine having run out of fresh food in an emergency, turning to the MREs, and realizing you either have to go hungry or risk your health by eating contaminated food!
Nor good at all!
Personally, I think that freezing is not worth the risk.
Freezing Only Once? Really?
If you keep MREs in the freezer for months or years on end, they normally go though several thaw-refreeze cycles due to power outages.
Each time this happens the layers of the packaging are stressed, and the chances of your emergency food getting ruined go up.
You may not even notice all of the power outages. They may happen at night or while you’re away at work or on holiday. Each time, your MREs are thawed, re-frozen, and the layers of the packaging are stressed.
More on MRE Packaging
Here’s some additional mind candy for knowledge junkies.
The layers of the pouch are, from outer to inner;
Polyester film, Aluminum Foil, Polypropylene
Polyester film, Nylon, Aluminum Foil, Polypropylene
Nylon is a recent addition and it provides extra strength to withstand drops and other abuse on the field. This added durability gives the new 4 layer pouches a better chance of withstanding freezing and thawing, the inherent risk from the manufacturing process still remains.
The US Army’s Natick Research Center still advises to “avoid fluctuating temperatures in and out of freezing level”.
Handling Frozen MREs
Frozen MREs are brittle and can not withstand much in the way of impacts, like they do when not frozen. I’ve seen military MRE boxes that have “do not rough handle when frozen” printed on them in huge letters.
This does imply that they may be frozen on occasion; however that’s not something I recommend for long-term home storage. A military warehouse is a controlled environment with backup power sources, the home freezer is not.
MRE Shelf Life Considerations
At the end of the day, MRE shelf life is what it is. To be safe I recommend not freezing but cycling them before expiration. You may want to look into alternatives as well.