How long can I need MREs to survive?

Emergencies can occur unexpectedly. When these dire circumstances crop up, it’s essential to be prepared and have emergency food ready to go. Besides stocking up on pantry items and freeze-dried foods, you should also consider adding meals-ready-to-eat into your emergency food supply. Meals-ready-to-eat are what they sound like—ready-to-eat meals—that were first developed in 1980. They were originally designed to feed soldiers in the military, people who are on their feet and need to rely on fast and efficient food to survive while they are training. Even though meals-ready-to-eat were designed for those in the military, they are also available for the public to purchase. Many backpackers, campers, and those on the go prefer to chow down on meals-ready-to-eat for the convenience they offer when staying outdoors. These foods are also considered to be good options for those preparing for their safety in emergencies. Since meals-ready-to-eat have become so versatile over the years, there are many different sellers online who offer a variety of different packages as well as methods of storage and shipment. They may be popular for their convenience and shelf-life, but how long exactly does the food last? Here’s everything you need to know about surviving off of meals-ready-to-eat. 

The Research is Mixed 

It’s essential to consider where your emergency food is coming from and how it is being stored from the moment you order it until it arrives. Extreme weather conditions can cause meals-ready-to-eat to expire quickly, either through package damage or damage to the food brought on by excessive heat. Even freezing conditions can cause damage to the packaging and contaminate the food. There are preservatives mixed into the food that helps to prevent bacterial growth inside of the packaging so that the shelf life of these meals can be sustained between three to ten years. It is not easy to keep these meals in proper storage condition, however, and because of that, you should always assume that the shelf-life duration is less than what the package suggests it is. There have been mixed reviews regarding how healthy meals-ready-to-eat are and how long they are safe to be consumed without adverse health consequences.

Be Mindful of MRE Expiration Date 

You have an inspection date listed on the food package rather than an expiration date posted on the package because the idea is that you are expected to continue checking on the packaging as time goes on, to make sure that the food remains in sound condition. The true expiration date varies based on your storage and safekeeping of the food. If you have no other option but to eat a potentially damaged MRE, rely on your sense of smell to determine if the food is safe to eat or not. Some manufacturers claim that their MREs can last up to twenty-five years, but you should always use your best judgment and take the estimated dates with a grain of salt. The standard rule of thumb is to check the package yourself before you’re about to eat any of the meals. Use your best judgment and rely heavily on your sense of smell and sense of sight to determine whether the packaged food is safe to eat or if it should be thrown away. 

Follow the 21-Day Rule 

While MREs have an average shelf life of three to five years for continued consumption, it’s recommended not to exceed more than twenty-one consecutive days of eating MREs. These foods have an insufficient amount of fiber and lack enough water for digestion to commence as it normally would. For these reasons, consistent consumption of MREs can result in constipation. MREs are recommended for those who are consistently engaged in very intense physical activity. Without engaging in this much exercise, it will be harder for your body to process such high fat, salt, and caloric contents. You may experience fatigue, bloating, nausea, and diarrhea with excessive MRE consumption and not enough exercise. 

Use Strategic Changes 

You’ll be able to eat your MREs for longer if you make a few strategic changes to how you consume these meals. If you monitor your portion sizes, you will digest food with less effort because you won’t be consuming so many calories at once. You should also include vitamins to supplement your diet with added nutrients, as it is possible that you may have lost nutrients from eating MREs alone. Supplementing with vitamins will allow you to replenish your body with the nutrients it needs to survive and to digest your food properly. You might also consider consuming a few servings of vegetables after each MRE meal. Vegetables help protein content diminish inside the body, lightening the load for your digestive system which is likely under a lot of stress after a high-calorie meal. You’ll also want to drink a lot of water to make up for the salt content and the food’s low-water content. The more hydrated you can stay, the better you’ll feel when relying on these foods for any extended period. 

Food Preservation Loopholes 

Your MREs may last for over ten years if they stay frozen. If they remain in storage at 75 degrees for five years, MRES should stay in good condition. At the end of the day, MREs are no different than any other food in terms of their vulnerabilities for spoiling. The primary reason that food spoils is microbe growth, so preserving your food by drying, chilling, and storing it in air-tight containers, will allow your food to stay edible for longer. Although preservation techniques are reassuring, you always want to be careful. Sometimes, frozen meat that appears to look and smell perfectly fine, quickly turns sour after defrosting. 

There is no straight formula to know just how long you can survive on emergency meals, but by drinking lots of water, taking proper storage, supplemental, and preservation measures, and by using your best judgment, you’re as well-prepared as you can be for any crisis that comes your way.