The military has lots of different types of operational rations. The most common are the MREs, but there are many others out there.
MREs were adopted as the combat ration in 1975. Tests in the 80s revealed that they weren’t very popular with the soldiers. Based on these tests they made some big changes to the MREs.
In 1988, 9 of the 12 menus were changed and the entrée increased in size from 5 to 8 ounces.
In 1998, menus increased to 24 choices. Since 1993, 70 new items were added. 4 vegetarian meals were included.
MRE packet and the contents. One of the changes they made over the years was to make the graphics “bigger” to make the meals look more palatable.
- HDR Humanitarian Daily Ration
- TOTM Tailored Operational Training Meal
- MCW Meal Cold Weather
- FSR First Strike Rations
The TOTM was designed as a lower calorie “sack lunch” type of MRE for inactive duty training. It utilizes many of the same components as the MRE. It comes in a clear outer bag.
The MCW was designed for cold weather feeding. It replaced both the RCW and the LRP. It won’t freeze and has extra drink mixes. It comes in a white package.
The Kosher/Halal or “Meal, Religious, Kosher or Halal is utilized to feed those individuals who maintain a strict religious diet. Like the MRE, it is a self contained meal.
The FSR is a compact eat on the move ration. It “institutionalizes” the practice of soldiers “field stripping” the MRE to make it easier to carry. It serves as one days worth of food with 900 less calories and takes up the same space as three MREs.
There are some meals that you still might see for sale, but they are not currently issued to the military.
- RCW Ration Cold Weather
- LRP Food Packet, Long Range Patrol
The RCW was designed for cold weather feeding. Each bag had two freeze dried meals in it for a days meals. Each meal provided 4500 calories. It comes in a white package.
The LRP was an extended life operational ration. It had a ten year shelf life. It provided reduced calories of 1560 calories per meal. It requires 28 ounces of water per meal.
We don’t think people should depend on MREs for the entire food storage plan, but we do think that they play a role in a complete storage plan consisting of freeze-dried, dehydrated, home canned and mobile foods.
The critical questions are:
1. How old are they when you buy them?
2. How long will they last?
3. What is a reasonable price?
The “Packaged Date” is the date that the MREs were made. You will see one of two types of numbers. The older MREs had two sets. It had the traditional month/day/year and it had the Julian date. Newer ones just have the Julian date. Julian dates aren’t that hard to read. The first number is the year, and the last three numbers are the chronological date from the year. For example, 4069 is 2014, and the 69th day of the year, or March 10th.
The Inspect date is three years from the date of packaging. It’s listed in the traditional month/day/year. Seeing as it’s easy to read, doing the Julian date computations is pretty much a waste of time.
The military requires MREs to be inspected every three years.
When you look at a case of MREs, many people see 2011 as an inspection date (for example) and figure that they must still be ok since it’s only three years later. In fact, the meals were packaged in 2008. They might still be ok, but I would have to know how they were stored before I added them to my supplies.
Temperature is the enemy of MREs and their shelf life drops drastically at temperatures above 80 degrees. Operational Tip here: DO NOT store them in the trunk of your car/truck in the summer and expect to be able to eat them!
Although this is not considered to be a definitive indicator of “good” or “bad” MREs, the Army added a time and temperature indicator (TTI) to the outside of the case of MREs in 1997. TTIs are used to reflect cumulative heat. Inspectors use these as an indicator to see if further inspection is required. The TTI contains two parts—an outer dark circle and an inner light circle. As long as the inner circle is lighter than the outer circle, they were considered good.
MRE prices vary dramatically. We see older ones at gun shows sell for as low as $40/case for the older ones, up to $75/case.
Dates are everything for us when we buy them to sell. We won’t buy any of them that more than three years old. The boxes they come in are some of the toughest cardboard around! It’s 400 pound burst tested, and you almost need a saw to cut it. The reason we point that out is that even if the boxes look water stained, if the dates are current, it’s not a big deal.
If you come across a batch of older ones and the price is appropriately low, you might want to take a chance. Ask the seller if you open up a few of the cases at random and check out the individual bags. When they go bad, the entrees will swell up. It is VERY noticeable! Anything that is not water packed in the MRE is virtually impossible to go bad, so even if the fruit and entrees are bad the other stuff is still good, especially the flameless heaters. The heaters came out in the early 90s so if they are cheap enough, they might be useful to buy.
I think that $50-$60 is a reasonable price for MREs if they are three years old or less.
So, how long do they last and how old is too old to consider buying?
The Army doesn’t have a shelf life on MREs. Now, they use a lot of them, so it isn’t a huge issue for them. However, if they pass inspection every three years, they are considered good enough to issue for use. I use the same standard for my MREs. I buy them in date so they are ok, and then store them correctly (80 degrees or less). I’ve opened and eaten MREs from the 70s and they were OK. There are lots of folks on different web pages who have reviewed older MREs and the conclusion they come to is that if stored correctly, 20+ years is ok.
I wouldn’t buy MREs older than three years unless you knew how they were stored without doing random checking on all of them.