MRE Shelf Life
Meals, ready-to-eat, commonly known as MREs, are ready made meals in flexible pouches, made to US military specification.
MREs are lighter than cans and easier to pack thanks to their squishiness, but how does MRE shelf life stack up?
Real World MRE Shelf Life
Unfortunately there is no fit-all answer. Claims of sites selling MREs are often projections or estimates.
US military specification is 42 months, in other words 3 and a half years. That may seem like a lot but it’s not, especially compared to freeze-dried foods.
Further, 3 and a half years only applies at room temperature, or 81 F (27 C).
It drops to only 9 months in hot conditions of 100 F (38 C).
Other army specifications stipulate the ability to sustain temperatures of – 60 F (-51 C) to 120 F (49 C) for a short duration.
What a short duration is, and how it exactly impacts MRE shelf life, is anyone’s guess.
Chilling MREs in the fridge undoubtedly extends the shelf life of MREs, however it is not specified by how much. Some sites selling MREs claim they last as long as 130 months (almost 11 years) at 60 F (15 C).
There is no army spec for cooled shelf life that I could find. Clearly chilled shelf life is of no concern to the military.
(Putting MREs in the freezer is not recommended. Find out why in my Freezing MREs article.)
When buying, I recommend asking for exact expiry dates, and what temperatures they apply on, before making a decision.
I made this chart to give you an idea. These are based on taste tests done by the army and are NOT guarantees by any specific maker.
MRE Shelf Life ~ Practical Considerations
Compared to other types of disaster preparedness foodstuff, MRE shelf life is rather short.
They’re also quite costly at about $6 to $8 a meal. Wikipedia puts the cost to the US military at 7.62 per pack. That’s how much of our taxes go towards a single pack. Ouch. I think we can’t expect to pay much less than that ourselves.
MREs are great for a day of camping, hiking or other outdoor activities, where the calories are quickly burned off and the unbalanced diet does not have unwanted side effects because of short term use. The strong point of MREs is convenience, and they excel in these situations.
For mid- to long term disaster preparedness, the combination of relatively short shelf life and comparatively high cost per meal makes stock rotation quite a burden.
For your mid to long term disaster preparedness checklist, you may want to consider other items.
For a comprehensive, no-fluff guide on what items you will need, and tons of survival tips, I recommend you check out survival expert Damian Campbell’s “37 Food Items Sold Out After Crisis” book. It’s a very well researched guide that I’ve found immensely helpful when preparing my family for future emergencies.
Click here to visit the official 37 Food Items Sold Out After Crisis website.