MRE's are a U.S. military developed meal that is self-contained and serves one person one meal; also known as MRE Rations. MRE stands for Meal Ready to Eat, indicating that little or no preparation is required. MRE's are packaged with a heater for the entrée but can also be eaten cold. Though the U.S. government developed and facilitated their creation, the MRE has also found many non-government uses.
Development for MRE's began in 1963 by the Department of Defense. Their goal was to replace the canned meals that were offered to soldiers at the time. In 1966 Long Range Patrol meals were introduced and used very little until they were discontinued due to their comparative cost. By 1975 work began on a dehydrated meal packaged in plastic. These meals were special issue in 1981, and by 1986 were standard issue. Back then there were only 12 entrees to choose from; now there are 24, with 150 additional items available. In addition, meals are offered that adhere to religious and vegetarian guidelines. Each MRE offers 1,200 calories and contains: an entrée, side dish, crackers, peanut butter or cheese spread, dessert, instant coffee or tea, matches, toilet paper, spoon and a heater for the entrée. During development, researchers made sure the MRE would survive parachute drops, drops from 100 ft without a chute, high and low temperatures and jungle atmospheres. Each situation altered the shelf life of the meal but the meal was still sanitary and edible.
Contractors supply MRE's to the U.S. Military and are required to print, "U.S. Government Property Commercial Resale Unlawful” on each package purchased by the government. However, military MRE's can be purchased on eBay and similar sites. Those same contractors offer a "civilian” version of MRE that are slightly different and can be purchased by the general public. The variations of these meals are minimal and mostly cosmetic. The packaging is often altered for ‘civilian' meals, though the packaging technique is the same. Also, the menu options are much more limited. Often, contractors put a different spoon in ‘civilian' meals and some offer the heater as an option rather than a constant. Other than those and similar discrepancies, ‘civilian' MRE's serve the same purpose. They have the same shelf-life, weigh 13 to 18 ounces and can withstand the same abuses as their military counterparts.
Many people have found a use for MRE's outside of the military. Often, campers take them in their emergency packs. Vehicle emergency kits contain similar items and even home owners have found use for MRE's in their disaster preparedness kits. It is important to note, however, that developers meant for MRE's to only be used for 21 consecutive days. Their reasoning noted that by that time other options would be available. Some have reported that the high sodium content on the MRE's can cause constipation.
MRE or Meals Ready to Eat have been developed for many years and used in many different situations. Funded by the U.S. Government, several scenarios have been taken into consideration. Additionally, the National Guard have used military MRE's in national emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina. Though military MRE's are printed as "unlawful” to re-sell, there is no specific law prohibiting their sale. It is wise, however, to be wary of such purchases, as the storage conditions may not be verifiable and will alter the shelf-life of the MRE.
The table that follows shows surveyed shelf-life for Shelf Stable products under a range of temperature conditions. Due to temperature variations that occur in the facilities where Shelf Stable products are stored, however, it is often impossible to determine actual shelf-life. Shelf life is more predictable where a climate controlled environment is maintained throughout the entire life of the product.
Sustained Storage Temperatures °F Estimated Shelf-life (in months):
120° - 1 month 110° - 5 months 100° - 18 months 90° - 30 months 80° - 48 months 70° - 66 months 60° - 84 months 50° to 33 ° - 96 months