FAQ: MRE Meals Ready to Eat

Questions & Answers - MREs

Q.  What is the Shelf Life of MREs? What are MRE storage recommendations?

MREs are quite sturdy and durable. The MRE pouches are designed to withstand rough handling conditions. They are easy to store in a pantry, basement, closet, etc.

The shelf life of MRE’s is totally dependent upon temperature storage conditions: The lower the temperature the better, but above freezing. Freezing is not recommended (freezing MREs can cause pouches to become brittle and may damage the pouch seam seals, which can cause spoilage of the contents).

MRE Shelf Life Chart
(based on taste testing at U.S. Army's Natick Research Laboratories)
Storage Temperature 100°F 90°F 85°F 80°F 75°F 70°F 60°F
Storage Life in Months (and years) 22 Mo
(1.8 yrs)
55 Mo
(4.5 yrs)
60 Mo
(5 yrs)
76 Mo
(6.3 yrs)
88 Mo
(7.3 yrs)
100 Mo
(8.3 yrs)
130+ Months
(10.8+ years)

Notes about MRE shelf life

We tell our customers to figure on a 5-year shelf life for MRE items at room temperature. But from the chart, you can see that the cooler you can keep your MREs, the better. If stored at room temperature (75 degrees on the high end), the taste testing indicates slightly over seven (7) years. If you can keep them cooler (like in a basement or like in our warehouse for example), the shelf life is over ten (10) years. Remember, the shelf life of MREs is based on taste testing, and not that the product goes bad and would be harmful to you. "I've had 10-year old spaghetti that was in my own supplies and it was just fine. The noodles were not quite as firm as the fresh MREs, but other than that, just fine", says TheEpicenter.com's Owner.

The manufacturer uses an estimated shelf life figure of "3 to 5 years, plus or minus" for its MRE-type pouched food products. Actual shelf life may vary from this estimate. A key factor effecting actual shelf life is the temperature of the storage environment. Storage at temperatures higher than 85°F may shorten the shelf life of MRE-type food products. On the other hand, lowering the storage temperature will help extend the products' shelf life. This effect is common to most processed food products.

The shelf life figures given in the table for MREs are based on taste test studies conducted by the U.S. Army's Natick Research Laboratories. This study was conducted by the US Army Natick Research Laboratories without participation of the MRE manufacturers. As such, the manufacturer cannot verify the test procedures used by the NATICK labs, nor do they adopt these shelf life figures as a guarantee of any sort. The data is useful, though, as a general indication of the effects of storage temperatures on the shelf life of MRE-type food products.

Q.  What are the ingredients and nutritional information for the individual MRE entrees and side dishes?

Although the MRE component specifications are dictated by military standards, each manufacturer has a slightly different recipe for like items. We offer components from all U.S. military manufacturers — and due to our constantly changing inventory of MRE Entrees and Side Dishes, we are unable to provide accurate nutritional info or specific ingredient info for these products. Nutrition and ingredients can change from lot to lot even from the same manufacturer.

To help you narrow down your choices, we offer "Shop By" product filters — Meal Type, Main Menu, Basic Dietary Options — but we are unable to provide specific allergen info for MRE entrees or side dishes.

As a general statement, MREs typically do not contain GMO-free or Organic ingredients, and may contain allergens.

Please refer to the individual product labels on received product for most accurate information.

Q. How are MRE's heated?

MRE Flameless Ration Heaters are the most popular method of heating MRE's. However, MREs are "ready to eat" and can be eaten cold, although a hot entree or side dish may be more appealing! Some methods to heat MREs include*:

Using the MRE "Flameless Ration" Chemical Heater (FRH)

  • Remove the MRE pouch from the outer cardboard box.
  • Follow instructions on the MRE Heater.
  • Slide the MRE pouch into the plastic sleeve of the Heater.
  • Add approximately 1oz (1–2 tbsp) of water (or saltwater activation packet if provided) to the Heater and place the Heater into the cardboard box. Note: The chemical reaction will begin the heating process immediately upon adding the water.
  • Place the cardboard box at a 45-degree angle by resting it against a firm vertical surface. Allow the MRE pouch contents to heat for several minutes (3–7 minutes).
  • Carefully remove the Heater from the cardboard box, then carefully remove the MRE Pouch. Items will be HOT!
  • Carefully cut open the MRE pouch and the contents are ready to eat!

Heating MREs in Boiling Water

  • Fill a saucepan about half way with clean water.
  • Heat water on a stovetop or burner, bringing the water to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to medium/medium-high (slow boil).
  • Remove the MRE pouch from the outer cardboard box and place MRE retort pouch into the boiling water.
  • Heat MRE pouch in water at a slow boil for several minutes (5–8 minutes).
  • Remove the saucepan from the heating source and carefully pour the water out of the pan to safely remove the MRE pouch. Caution: MRE Pouch and water will be HOT!
  • Carefully cut open the MRE pouch and the contents are ready to eat!

Heating MRE's in a Saucepan

  • Remove the MRE pouch from the outer cardboard box.
  • Cut open the MRE pouch and empty contents in a saucepan.
  • Heat contents at “Medium to Medium-high” temperature for approximately 5 minutes.
  • Remove the saucepan from the heating source, transfer contents to a clean dish, and eat! Caution: Saucepan and contents will be HOT!

Using a Microwave to Heat MREs (CAUTION!)

  • Remove the MRE pouch from the cardboard box.
  • Cut open MRE pouch and place contents in a clean microwave-safe bowl or plate. (Do not place the MRE retort pouch in a microwave!)
  • Cover with paper towel.
  • Microwave on high for a couple of minutes (2–3 minutes).
  • Carefully remove from microwave (caution: contents will be hot!) and your MRE is ready to eat!

Heating MREs in the Oven

  • Remove the MRE pouch from the cardboard box.
  • Cut open MRE pouch and place contents in a clean oven-safe dish. (Do not place the MRE retort pouch in an oven!)
  • Heat in a 350° oven for approximately 7–10 minutes.
  • Carefully remove from oven (caution: contents will be hot!) and your MRE is ready to eat!

Other Alternatively-used MRE Heating Methods

  • Remove the MRE pouch from the cardboard box.
    • Hold the MRE pouch next to your warm body
    • Place the MRE pouch on your vehicle’s warm engine manifold

* The MRE heating methods listed are for general reference only. Heating times indicated may vary and may need to be adjusted for best results. Use caution when heating MREs.

Q. Do MRE’s have an expiration date? How do I read product date codes?

MREs do not have an expiration date. MRE products use a 4-digit production date code which identifies the date of packaging/manufacture, sometimes followed by a 4-digit production lot number (Julian date coding).

The first four numbers are the date of manufacture with the first digit identifying the "year" of production and the last three digits being the "day of the year of production." If there is a second set of 4-digits, those identify the lot pack.

For example, a code of 2182would read as "the 182nd day of 2000" (or June 30, 2020). Be aware that if you have OLDER MREs, the production lot code COULD be June 30, 2010, or even June 30, 2000! This is why it's important to ROTATE ROTATE ROTATE your MRE supplies!

Q. What is the difference between MREs and Freeze Dried or Dehydrated Foods?

MRE’s are ready to eat and no preparation is required, while freeze-dried and dehydrated foods require clean drinking water to rehydrate for consumption. Each has a different recommended storage condition and shelf life, although the shelf life of storable foods can be extended if stored at lower temperatures. In our opinion, the MREs and Freeze Dried/Dehydrated Foods we sell are of very high quality and are perfect for many situations such as emergency preparedness and survival food storage, camping, hiking, backpacking, hunting, fishing, etc.

We are often asked "Which tastes better: MRE’s or Freeze Dried/Dehydrated Foods?" and
"is freeze dried food better than MRE’s?"

Our answer is: "We conduct in-house taste tests here at TheEpicenter and find that MREs as well as freeze-dried/dehydrated products are actually quite tasty and we have been pleasantly surprised on many occasions! In our experience, all products in our inventory are of high quality, good tasting, and of good value."

Remember, these products are meant to be used in an emergency situation, as emergency food storage, or for short term use such as camping, hiking, and hunting. When we do our taste testing, we imagine if we could eat the item: 1) If there is no access to a supermarket during a natural disaster, power outage, etc; 2) Camping, hiking, hunting, etc.; or 3) As a food storage item for an unexpected crisis, food shortage, job loss, or to offset rising food costs.

Another point to consider is if there will be access to clean drinking water, as freeze-dried and dehydrated foods DO require water to rehydrate prior to consumption. MREs are ready to eat and do not require any water or additional preparation.

For a more detailed discussion, please see MREs vs Freeze Dried and Dehydrated Foods.

Q. What is the difference between "Civilian" (Commercial) MREs and "Military" (Government Issue) MREs?

There are several reasons why you should buy commercially-packed “Civilian” MREs vs “Military” MREs:

  • Civilian MRE’s have known storage conditions (straight from the manufacturer, stored in our warehouse for example). We recommend always buying from a known distributor/dealer (versus eBay, as you do not always know the storage conditions and production date history of eBay items).
  • Civilian MREs are distributed by known, legitimate dealers (not eBay sellers who may be selling old MRE’s). We are an authorized distibutor of Sopakco Sure-Pak 12 meals.
  • There are no restrictions on sales of commercially-packed Civilian MREs, while Military MREs are government issue and the military considers the commercial resale of Military-issue MREs as illegal.

Q. What are the nutritional values and ingredient in MREs?

MRE entrees are usually 8 oz and range anywhere from 150–550 calories per serving; MRE side dishes are usually 5 oz and range from 130–250 calories per serving. Additional calories and nutritional needs are available with the addition of MRE crackers, spreads, desserts and snacks, and beverages to your meal.

MRE STAR Spec Sheet: MRESTAR Emergency Meal Case Spec Sheet

Nutritional and ingredient information for individual MRE entrees, MRE side dishes, and other MRE items is not available at this time due to our constantly changing inventory.

* Please note: The information provided is for general reference only and is subject to change at any time without notice. None of the MRE manufacturers provide information regarding genetically modified (GMO/GME) or organically grown ingredients for MREs.

Q. Do you have MREs in stock?

Please click on any of the links below to see TheEpicenter.com's current inventory selection: