MRE, meal ready to eat, is a packet of self-contained, individually wrapped field rations. Typically, MRE meals for sale are offered to the public but they are primarily used by the US Department of Defense for all of its military service members who are in the field or combat conditions and where having an organized food facility is not an option. A MRE does not require refrigeration but they should be kept cool. MREs replaced canned MCI, meal combat individual rations, in 1981. They also replaced the LRP ration that was being used by the Special Forces, Ranger Patrol Units, and the United States Army. MREs, at times, have also been given to civilians during natural disasters.
MRE Meals History
The very first United States ration for soldiers was established by a Congregational Resolution. This Resolution came into being during the Revolutionary War. It allowed for enough food to feed the average man for one day. The meal consisted mainly of peas, rice, and beef. Later on during the Civil War, the military of the United States shifted towards canned good supplies. Afterwards, self-contained kits were introduced as a whole meal ration that contained bread, coffee, canned meat, salt, and sugar.
At the outbreak of World War I the canned meat rations were eliminated and replaced with various preserved meats that were either dried or salted. The reason for this change was to lower the weight of the soldier’s backpack. This would allow the soldier to carry all of his food supplies on foot. World War II saw a number of new field rations which included the Jungle ration and the Mountain ration.
Unfortunately, at the latter part of the Korean War and World War II there were frequent cost-cutting measures introduced by Quartermaster Command officials. These officials decided to switch back to the heavy canned C rations regardless of the mission or operating costs. It is interesting to note that during World War II there was an amazing 100 million or more cans of Spam sent to the Pacific.
After many years, and repeated experiences of providing a prepared ration to a soldier, the Pentagon finally realized that it was not enough to simply give a balanced meal in the field. Years of experience taught the Pentagon that service members who were in different combat situations or geographic regions may require a different subset of ingredients if the food was to be considered palatable over long periods in the field.
In addition, they wanted to catere to a soldiers individual preferences and tastes so it would encourage the soldier to eat the entire ration and thereby all of the meal’s nutrition. This was especially true when dealing with specialized forces who were in extreme environments. A soldier in this type of situation would not want the extra burden of carrying an increasingly heavy load while on foot. By switching from the standard canned wet ration to a lighter alternative it would allow the soldier to extend their mission.
Therefore, the Department of Defence decided in 1963 to begin the development of the meal ready to eat (MRE). It was a food ration that would rely on the latest packaging technology and most modern food preparation techniques. The goal would be to create a replacement that was better than the canned individual rations. In 1966, the first step was to introduce the Long Range Patrol ration, LRP ration, that consisted of a dehydrated meal inside of a waterproof canvas pouch.
Unfortunately, the expense issue reared its ugly head the same way that occurred with the Jungle ration. The difference in costs between the LRP ration and the previous existing canned wet ration was just too expensive. There were also additional costs of storing this specialized field ration as well as stocking it. Over time, it led to repeated attempts at discontinuance or limited usage.
In 1975, the evolution of MRE rations advanced with the work of Dr. Abdul Rahman. He began to investigate how a dehydrated meal could be stored in a plastic retort pouch. A retort pouch was a unique type of food packaging made from metal foils and a laminate of flexible plastic.
A retort pouch provided a sterile packaging for a wide variety of drink and food. It was a great alternative packaging to the traditional canning methods. Dr. Rahman’s research was honored with a special reward for his contribution. In 1981, the government started using this type of packaging for special issue. In 1986 they continued with this type of packaging for standard issue. Standard issue had a limited menu of 12 entrées.
Since Dr. Rahman’s work , the MRE program has continued its research and development so as to provide a soldier with the most nutritious and tasty meal possible. In 1990, there was a very interesting development. It was the introduction of a exothermic reaction that was water activated. This breakthrough was called the (FRH) Flameless Ration Heater and basically it provided heat for the meal. This revelation allowed a service member in combat or in the field to chow down and enjoy a hot meal.
In 1996, there were now a total of 16 entrées, including vegetarian options. In 1997, there were 20 entrées and 24 entrées in 1998. Today, it has grown to 24 entrées that include more than 150 additional items. This allows a tremendous variety for all service members from various geographical regions and cultures so that they can enjoy food that they are familiar with.
Even the packaging evolved from year to year. From 1981 to 1995, the original ration was packaged in a dark brown outer bag. The reason for this was so it would blend in easier with the plains and temperate forests of central Europe. This bag was replaced in 1996 with a bag that was better equipped for the deserts of the Middle East. The color of this newer bag was tan.
In 2006, the Beverage Bag was introduced and included in the MRE. The reason for this was that many service members were now depending more on their hydration packs than they were on their traditional canteens. The bags also were sealable which allowed them to be used with the flameless heater.
Recently, the Institute of Medicine even influenced the content of a MRE. The Institute of Medicine created a Dietary Reference Intake Guide that offers recommendations to make sure that each MRE is properly suited for highly active military men. It was discovered that a highly active serviceman would usually burn around 4000 calories a day. They would, however, only consume 2400 calories a day during combat.
This meant that the average serviceman would be in a negative energy balance. Sometimes the balance occurred because a serviceman would not consume the entire ration. The food items in the MRE were then boosted with additional macronutrients to help boost energy and nutrition levels. The government continues to study the eating preferences and habits of service members so that they can incorporate any changes that will encourage the service member to eat the entire meal and thereby get its full nutritional benefit.
MRE Meals Usage
MRE’s are very simple and easy-to-use and they do not require a lot of prep time. Basically, there are only three simple steps:
Step #1 – is to open the package. After you open your MRE package, you will see a self-contained box that includes the entrée and a description of what type of entrée you will be eating. The actual MRE is in the box and is inside of a retort pouch. Simply remember that the entrée has already been cooked and therefore you can eat it either cold or hot and directly from the pouch. It is almost the same thing as eating food out of a can.
Step #2 – as mentioned previously, you can eat the food either cold or hot. If you prefer your food hot then the easiest way to heat it up is with a (FRH), Flameless Ration Heater, which is also known as a MRE Heater. These incredible easy to use heater only requires one ounce of water to activate. If you do not have access to a MRE Heater then you can choose one of the following methods to warm or heat your MRE.
- Put the MRE in direct sunlight to be heated.
- Place the pouch for five minutes in boiling water.
- Place the MRE packet near a hot fire or on a hot rock.
- Take the food out of the pouch and heat it either on top of the stove or in a microwave.
Step #3 – Now you can enjoy your MRE. If you have previously heated it make sure that you allow it to cool down so as to not burn yourself. Once the MRE packet has cooled enough you will notice that it has perforated edges on the sides. This will allow you to easily tear open the pack. You can eat the food inside directly out of the pouch or you can put the contents onto a plate and enjoy your meal.
MRE Meals Storage
A properly stored MRE will last for approximately 5 years if it is stored at 75°F or less. They will store longer if the temperature is cooler. A MRE package will not have an expiration date anywhere stamped on the package such as a day, month, and year. They will, however, have the manufacture date that shows when the package was made. The package will last approximately five years as long as the seal is not broken.
It should be noted that the nutritional value and taste will disintegrate over long periods of time. Also, if your package has bloated or if the food smells funny then the MRE will probably have expired. The manufacturers of MREs use a modified 4 digit Julian date code so as to indicate the manufacturer’s date of production. This date code is normally stamped on both the MRE pouch and box. The very first digit will represent the year and the last 3 digits will represent the day.
For example, a code date of 8304 would mean that the MRE was manufactured on the 304th day of 2008. Often, the code date may have a letter at the very end which is simply a batch number. A code date of 1347 would indicate a manufacturing date of December 12, 2011.
MRE Meals Nutrition
There are a variety of ways that the public can order a case of MREs. One typical way is to place an order for full meal MREs at a retail outlet. Full meal MREs will include everything from the main entrée to a drink mix, candy, dessert, napkins, and plastic ware. You can also order a case of MREs that only have the main entrée. This is important to know because only the full meal entrée MREs will include extra side dishes and condiments.
When it comes to the nutritional value of a MRE, it is important to remember that they were designed to meet all of the specifications and requirements that the Department of Defense wanted for the food of their servicemen. A typical MRE entrée may have anywhere between 1000 to 1200 calories. All of the entrées will be very high in fats, protein, and carbs. They have been designed to provide a nutritionally balanced meal when operating in a high-intensity environment. This makes them perfect for almost any emergency that mankind faces.
Only 2 MRE entrées will provide you with all of the recommended daily allowances of vitamins, calories, and nutrients. Today, there are some MRE manufacturers who are including sodium reduced meals in their production. These type of meals use less salt and instead use salt free seasonings for their food. They also are fortifying their meals with extra vitamins and minerals such as iron and calcium.
One interesting comparison put a MRE spaghetti and meatballs entrée against a freeze-dried mealballs dish and an old-fashioned homemade spaghetti and meatballs meal. The MRE compared more with the homemade spaghetti and meatballs meal as far as nutritional value. The MRE meal also had the least amount of sodium of the three. The freeze-dried spaghetti meal was the highest in sodium content.
MRE eBay Concerns
It should be noted that there is quite a difference between government issued MREs and MREs that are sold to the public. The government has often used MREs for non-military uses such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and other natural disasters. In 2005, after government MREs were issued for the victims of Hurricane Katrina there was a sudden surge of MREs appearing on eBay.
As a side point, there has been a large increase in the sales of MREs for public consumption. There are many legitimate dealers online who are selling an excellent product. It should be noted, if you decide to purchase from an eBay seller then you need to make sure that you are not getting a fake or old MRE packet.
It is sad to say but there are stories out there were some military MRE packets had been in a war zone for months or years before showing up at eBay. Why would you want to purchase any food product that has been lying around in the desert for months or years? That would simply be a waste of good money considering that there are many honest MRE dealers available.
Besides, a US research laboratory did a variety of tests on the shelf life of MREs. Even though a typical MRE should last about five years, the research team discovered that when a MRE has been exposed to 100°F temperatures for a considerable length of time they will only last for two years or less.
There are also a lot of crazy things going on in a war zone. Some of those crazy things include the use of nasty chemicals that have the ability to stick to anything. Have you read any recent reports about the many mysterious illnesses that are cropping up among enlisted men who served overseas and especially in war zones? It may not be advisable to eat something that could cause serious harm to your health so that you only can save a few dollars.
The quality of any military food item will typically depend on the no-bid contract that a special interest group ends up winning. The truth of the matter is that many service members have recently been forced to buy their own military gear and supplies because of the poor quality of the equipment purchased by the U.S. government. That is another good reason not to trust any military MRE packets that suddenly go on sale and seem too good to be true. On the other hand, a civilian MRE company needs to be concerned about unsafe product and lawsuits. They will be more concerned about the quality of their product.
MRE vs Backpack Meals
There is a common misconception among many people that have never tried a MRE that they are equal to a backpack meal. There is one similarity and that similarity is that both of them are lightweight meals. However, that is where the similarity ends. MRE meals are a far better choice to take whenever you are backpacking or exploring the great outdoors.
The first reason why they are better is because they have more calories. More calories simply means that they have more energy and energy is something that you will need when you are foraging through the forest, climbing steep mountains, kayaking through whitewater rapids, or fishing at a pristine lake high in the mountains. It is a simple matter of mathematics. When backpacking and adventuring you need to put more calories into your body than what you use. An average backpack meal has between 400 – 600 calories whereas a MRE has approximately 1200 calories.
A backpacking meal also only comes with one main entrée, unless you purchase additional side dishes. On the other hand, a MRE is complete with a side dish such as vegetables, rice, or fruit. These extra sides are important to provide you with extra nutrition and vitamins. It is also more pleasing to have a meal with side dishes. This will make your outdoor experience much more enjoyable and therefore more memorable.
One of the benefits of choosing a MRE over a backpack meal is the bread or crackers. Can you imagine how drab a meal would be without a delicious piece of bread or a crumbly cracker? Unfortunately, you will have little to imagine if you choose a backpack meal because they do not include crackers or bread.
Another tasty treat that you will find in your MRE box is either a fruit spread, candy, or dessert. In fact, you will normally find all three of these items. The fruit spread will be for your piece of bread and it may be jelly, peanut butter, or cheese. Just because you are venturing into the wilderness does not mean that you should avoid a complete meal. Once again, do not expect these tantalizing treats in your backpack meal.
One of the main things that you will need to bring with you is water. Of course, there are times in the wilderness when you will come across a fast-moving stream that provides ample water. However, wouldn’t it be nice to also have something to drink besides water? When you bring along a MRE you will get either hot chocolate, coffee, herb tea, sports drink, or a shake. Sad to say, with a backpack meal you will need to bring whatever you want as an extra.
MREs also come complete with various accessories such as spoons, wipes, toilet paper, chewing gum, salt, sugar, matches, and sometimes even Tabasco sauce. Guess what you will find in a backpack meal? Yes, you are right because you will not find any accessories. With a backpack meal you will need to make a checklist so that you do not forget any of these essentials.
The final, and perhaps the most important difference between MREs and backpack meals, are Flameless Ration Heaters. If you come across a winter snowstorm with freezing rain then imagine how happy you will be to have a hot meal? They are so simple to use. You simply tear open a heater pouch, add a little bit of water, add the entrée, and wait.