The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly....
MRE's are "Meals, Ready to Eat", which we are not too fond of. They're also called IMP's if you're from Canada. It's not because they're bad - they are okay, as far as they go and for what they are intended for. But we do not recommend them for long term storage or survival food for several valid reasons - mostly because this is definitely not what they are intended for.
MRE's are expensive. Considering their actual cost - even if you find a good "deal" (be careful!), a case contains only 12 meals, which at $50 (a fantastic deal of yesteryear) is $4.16 per meal. Hopefully, you nabbed this with free shipping... if not, factor that in and divide by 12. At today's price of
$65 $75 $80 a case, that's $6.66 per meal. The actual cost of MRE's is about 3 - 4 times as expensive as their comparable freeze dried and dehydrated counterparts.
The shelf life of MRE's is short. In fact, they offer a substantially shorter shelf life than freeze dried or dehydrated food shelf life (25 years in many cases). MRE's offer only a 3 - 5 years on average. "How Stuff Works" claims their average shelf life is only 3 years. But if exposed to high heat, such as in the desert, the shelf life will drop to as little as 1 month.
Even cans of wet-pack supermarket food will last 2 - 5 years if properly stored (away from heat and sunlight). But don't fall for this "food storage plan" either - as it won't work very well. From our Shelf Life page:
A Few Comments About Canned Food
Don't believe the Hollywood versions of 'survivors' of the "Apocalypse" eating store-bought food (cans or packaged food, also known as wet-pack food) scrounged from abandoned stores or hoarded away decades later. This narrative is completely false and while it might make for an entertaining movie, it would also kill the remaining population that dared eat it.
Supermarket food of all types will have long spoiled, or rotted away, even inside the cans due to bacteria or acidity. Even the cans themselves are not intended for long-term storage. Packaged store-bought food in boxes or plastic containers or wrapping will be utterly ruined and unfit to eat. Oxygen, mold and bacteria will have long ago ruined any possibility of eating such food. Eating any of these foods will probably kill you. Starvation will then finish the job.
The reality is any survival shelters stocked with supermarket food must be constantly rotated and replenished (monthly) to ensure nothing is ruined or spoiled. But it is a very short-term "preparedness plan" in reality, which is why we have never recommended this. Canned wet-pack food will last a few years at best (2 - 5 years, please review Still Tasty for the actual facts on wet-pack food shelf life), but beyond that it would be extremely risky to dare eat it.
The facts are there is no such thing as canned wet-pack food lasting decades. We see a lot of people making this mistake, stockpiling canned food for hard times years or even decades ahead. They are wasting their money (unless they can eat it fast enough). The only way you can acheive this type of food security is by storing foods specifically processed for long shelf life and stored in airtight containers in a cool location.
Airtight containers (with oxygen absorbers) will prevent oxygen, bacteria, mold and mildew from reaching the food. See Food Storage Basics section below. Containers must be oxygen-impermeable, which is why we always recommend Mylar liners in our buckets of food, or the mylar food pouches we carry or hard-sided cans, and everything with an oxygen absorber inside. Real food security means doing the job right, the first time and not wasting time, effort and money on something that doesn't work.
Back to Why MRE's are really a poor choice...
If you buy MRE's, you need to be certain they are very fresh and not older stock. Auction sites and MRE sellers often push out old expired stock to the unwary buyer. What may seem like a good deal really isn't, especially if it's unedible when you go to consume it.
Contrary to the many old 1980's era charts floating around the internet (when MRE's contained a fair number of freeze dried components - they do not have these anymore), most current shelf life estimates for MRE's reveal the following:
Because high temperatures can play havoc with MRE's, they are not really that suitable for a vehicle emergency kits (something they are often bought for), bug out bags, or anywhere else that is exposed to high temperature fluctuations. Yet this is often what people think they'll use. We don't agree that these are a good choice (read below).
MRE's can also be damaged by freezing (this isn't true for dehydrated or freeze dried food - cold is good). Freezing can cause the packaging to delaminate. Freeze dried and dehydrated foods, however, aren't harmed by freezing. Shelf life can actually be increased on dehydrated and freeze dried foods by freezing.
If you want emergency food that is designed to survive extreme temperature fluctuations, we recommend the Mainstay Emergency Rations.
MRE's are heavy. In fact, they are WAY too heavy to consider for hiking in our opinion. For a backpack, they're a lousy choice due to their weight and the sheer amount of packaging they contain. A week of MRE rations will weight 4 - 8 times as much or more than dehydrated or freeze dried foods.
Some sites have actually recommended a bug-out bag with a "2 week supply of MRE's" in your kit. Apparently, they've never weighed the thing or tried to hump through the wilds with one of these monstrosities on their back. Definitely not your best choice.
MRE's are actually considered "low" in water content, but their weight is substantial for a single meal. More weight means more energy burned. More energy burned means more food needed to stay strong and/or healthy.
For anyone having to carry these very long or very far, they're definitely not recommended. Freeze dried and dehydrated foods are much superior, due to their lightweight and compact size and high nutritional value. MRE's are considered way too heavy for backpacking, although this is what the military issues to their troops when in the field. But you have to also understand that they are carrying 100 lbs. packs... not something your average backpacker is actually willing to do. And we've just given you one of the reasons why they're so heavy.
MRE's are bulky. Compared to freeze dried and dehydrated foods, and even "stripped down" to their essential packaging (throw away the plastic pouch and anything else you don't want), they are still bulkier than their counterparts. And they're still remain heavy - because MRE's are in fact a "wet-pack" food (main entree and some of the side dishes).
MRE's are low in fiber. Low fiber = constipation, see below for what this can mean to your body and how "good" you feel.
They also contain a relatively low amount of water for their actual weight. Since no water is actually needed (discounting the small amount of water required to activate the heater - you can eat MRE's cold), many people think that MRE's are better than the water-requiring freeze dried or dehydrated food (required for cooking, about 1 cup of water per serving on average).
Not so. To avoid serious constipation, you will need to consume plenty of water if you eat MRE's regularly. You will need adequate hydration to stay healthy no matter what (even sitting at your desk), so drinking sufficient quantities of water or consuming some with your freeze dried or dehydrated meals is going to be necessary.
MRE's have very high sodium. On average, the sodium content is about 3800 milligrams! They're also packaged in tri-laminate retort pouch, which is essentially a flexible aluminum and plastic packaging material. The jury is still out on whether aluminum is responsible contributor to Alzheimer's Disease, but why take a chance?
|MRE Nutritional Facts||Chicken
|Calories from Fat||480||445||455||435||454||(35%)|
MRE's are designed for heavy physical activity, and to be eaten in their entirety. The closer you follow this recipe, the better off you will be with MRE's. Although MRE's are often used to feed refugee's and otherwise displaced folks, they cause problems when utilized in situations other than their designed purpose.
In the real world, whether it is the battlefield, a hurricane shelter, times of crisis, or just plain old fashioned camping, MRE's are quickly split up the minute the outer packaging is opened. The best parts are eaten or hoarded, the second-best parts traded, and the unappealing or inedible parts are simply and quickly discarded. In the end, this does not properly equate to the fully balanced nutrition (coupled with heavy physical activity) that MRE's are designed for.
MRE's are also quite boring. If you've eaten very many, you'll be disgusted with the "same taste". Some are better than others, but not by much. Troops will go to great lengths when issued MRE's to obtain the best ones (because they're sick to death of the things) or to douse the entire entree with hot sauce.
Nothing beats a "hot meal" in reality, which is also going to be far healthier for you too. The general consensus is the Omelette MRE's are probably the worst - with many a soldier's opinion likening them to "an alien placenta." We'll let the following picture help you decide which is worse - an alien placenta or an MRE omelette.
MRE's eaten over a period of time will make you quite sick. They are high in fats and low in fiber and have "something" in them to keep you from having regular bowl movements. Or it is just their low fiber content. Their high calorie content means that you can survive on just one per day, although you would definitely not feel "full" all day. A few days of nothing but MRE's and you will feel quite ill - because your body is not accustomed to eating these types of foods.
One of the really serious side effects of MRE's is that they will also constipate you rather badly. You will have a hard time going to the bathroom. In fact, it might be a bit serious and extremely unpleasant. This is a very widespread and common compaint about MRE's.
The following link is the "experience" you might have (warning: very graphic, don't read this if you're easily offended) from the The Dedicated Camper
"I will stop the story at this point to tell you about IMPs. I have a background with Army Cadets as well as a lot of friends currently serving in the armed forces, so I am no stranger to Canadian IMPs. Just like American MREs, Canadian military food is ideal for camping and hiking -- it is pre-packaged and ready to eat, requiring no cooking nor even any water. Just open and eat. They are packed with calories -- one Canadian IMP contains enough energy to sustain you for one whole day. I had packed enough to eat two a day -- one for breakfast and one for dinner.
Anyone who has been in the military or read this site knows that IMPs and MREs pretty much stop your digestive system right in its tracks.
There at the base camp, the IMP did not go down easily. It caused a lot of cramps, gas, and general discomfort in my stomach. But because I was so worn out from the hike, I promptly fell asleep.
I woke up to the hot morning sun cooking me inside my tent -- not the feeling I needed to wake up to.
The hike that day was kept simple for my benefit -- we explored close to camp and came back for the evening. No mountain climbing today. Over the course of the day I regained my old composure, my appetite, and my strength by eating properly, although it was a fight to do so.
It was not until the third day that things started feeling heavy. Though IMPs were designed to make a person hold out under normal conditions, I really doubt they were tested for my circumstances. On that third day we made a long hike and discovered a really great glacial stream. It was getting close to thirty degrees Celsius outside (86º F), and the ice-cold glacial stream was welcomed with open arms and open Nalgine bottles. That is when I realized that the grogan beast growing in my stomach wanted to be birthed.
I let the group know, grabbed my toilet paper, and went off a ways from the stream so that I could do my thing. What I gave birth to out there was probably the largest and most discolored turd I have ever dropped. It was about eight inches long and equivalent in girth to a soda can. The thing that made it special: it was half-and-half colored. The first half was black, pitch black -- then it abruptly changed to a normal brown.
I am never really one to stare at my own work. I usually have a look and flush it away. But because this was in the bush, out in the open, and not going anywhere, I stared at it for a time, wondering if maybe I had some internal damage from being so sick.
I alerted my friends to my new child and expressed my concern. One of the guys said that the black color was probably my body's way of flushing out all the contaminants in my system after being so sick. Everyone else agreed, and that is where I let it rest.
The rest of my trip went normally. After that poop I felt infinitely better, even better than I did before I got sick. The IMPs did their work and kept me going through the rest of the trip. For me, the poop story ends there.
But this saga does not. You see, my perfectly healthy friend Pete was on the exact same diet I was. And the IMPs were doing to him exactly what they were supposed to do.
We returned back from the hiking trip and the day of rest passed. The next day, I asked Pete up if he gotten rid of his IMPs yet. Nope.
One week later he had still not gone.
We were on a trip to Vancouver, stopped for food in a city called Kamloops, when it hit. We had just gotten our meals and had started to eat when Pete abruptly stopped, looked at me, and uttered, "It's time." He got up and left the table. The dude was gone for about twenty minutes.
I had just finished eating my meal when Pete walked back to the table, his face beet red, laughing hysterically. I asked him what was so funny. "Go have a look for yourself," he said. I knew that whatever he had done would probably require us to pay and leave the restaurant immediately. So I decided to have a look before we made our exit.
Upon opening the men's room door, I noticed water on the floor pooled around the only stall in the washroom. I peaked around the door. What I saw amazed me.
My friend Pete is not a big guy -- maybe five foot two and 130 pounds soaking wet. This guy produced something that I can only equate to a NFL football-sized (and shaped!) turd. Not only that, but it had its own unique tannish-manila color to it. And, surprisingly for something that size, it was floating in water that was up to the rim of the toilet.
I started to laugh as I made my way back to the table. We had a good chuckle at the Godzilla turd that my friend produced and planned to make our exit. But we felt bad for the poor bastard who would have to deal with it. So we wrote "Sorry" on a napkin in black felt pen, took the napkin into the stall, placed it on the lid of the toilet, hoped he'd see the humor in the situation, and made our exit. Life went back to normal."
There's another "humorous" MRE poop story here (also graphic).
We've eaten quite a few MRE's ourselves (many hundreds) and frankly, would rather have something else to chow down on if at all possible. I do not personally stock MRE's anymore (or store any) because they're far less desirable then the better, lighter, healthier alternatives.
After several years, the MRE's we had stored were unfit to eat and we tried feeding them to our dog whom refused to eat them (beefsteak MRE's), which was surprising considering his normal aptitude for devouring everything in sight. In the end we had to toss them out. I simply do not store them anymore as part of our food storage program. Dehydrated and freeze dried food is much better, cheaper, lighter, more nutritious, and healthier. It fits in my bag better too.
Let's face it - we'd sell the MRE's by the shipload if we thought they were any good. We've often been asked to carry an MRE lines (by distributers) but have chosen not to do so because there really is better, cheaper, lighter and healthier alternatives. We don't carry other brands of food for the same reasons - it's either not good for you, or it's too expensive or it simply won't work as claimed.
The "one advantage" that we can find to MRE's is this - they are ready to eat. No cooking, heating or refrigeration required. And that is their intended use. A few meals won't do you any real harm - but they are a lousy replacement for long term storage or sustained consumption. Take one with you when hunting or camping. Just don't plan on using these long term for your "survival stash" or feeding to your family when an emergency arises. There are far better choices than MRE's, and they will thank you for that (and so will your toilet).
For less money, less weight, less sodium, better variety, a healthier alternative, and much longer shelf life, we definitely recommend freeze dried or dehydrated food for long term storage, disaster planning, emergency preparations, and survival needs. They are hands down the best option of all ALL food storage, including canned, frozen or "supermarket" foods (see testing). Food that can last decades is a fantastic investment in your future.
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