It’s important to understand how old the MRE’s you’ve purchased are. Whether you have a whole case or just a single MRE you’ll want to know how much shelf life you have left before you need to use it.
Individual MRE Meals
To date individual MRE meals you’ll want to look for a stamped date code on the outer bag. Sometimes these are in a normal date format of MM/DD/YYYY, which is really easy to figure out. Other manufacturers will use an MRE date code that is a 4 digit code. This is called a Julian date code but they only use a single digit for the year. Understanding the code is easy even if figuring out the exact date isn’t. The first digit is the year it was manufactured. The remaining 3 digits are the day of the year counting from 1 and running up to 365. For example if you had a stamp date of 7178 then it was manufactured on June 27, 2017. June 27th is the 178th day of the year. You can use a Julian date calculator, such as this one to figure out the exact date of manufacture. (You’ll just need to add an extra digit on the year number when using it.)
There will also be stamped dates on each item in the MRE as well. So even if you can’t find it on the wrapper itself you can open the MRE and find a date stamp on each individual part of the meal. These will often be slightly different since each component of the meal isn’t made on the same day.
Dating MRE Cases
MRE cases will usually have both a packed and an inspection date, with the inspection date usually 3 years after the pack date. It’s critical to understand when purchasing MREs that if you’re buying them on the inspection date then almost 67% of the recommended shelf life has already been used!
Because genuine military MREs are usually not released for purchase until after the inspection date be prepared to get them with just a year or two of good shelf life left. So expect to use them more quickly to actually get some use out of them.
If you want to have the maximum shelf life possible then you’ll want to find an MRE reseller that has civilian MREs with a more recent pack date. Then if you store them in a cool and dry place you should be able to get 5 to 7 years or more shelf life from them.