Also read "Why We Do Not Recommend Survival Food Buckets"
MRE's are "Meals, Ready to Eat." They're also called IMP's if you're from Canada. Here at Food Assets, we are not particularly fond of MRE's as a long term food storage option. It's not because they're bad - they're okay, as far as they go and for what MRE's are intended for. But we do not recommend them for long term storage or as your only survival food for several valid reasons - mostly because this is definitely not what they are intended for and you will be terribly disappointed, especially if you didn't get what you thought you were getting!
A few reasons why we do not recommend MRE's:
The short of it is - the hotter it gets, the faster the shelf life of an MRE deteriorates. This makes them an especially poor choice for vehicular storage where temperature extremes are a fact of life. MRE's only offer a 3 - 5 year shelf life on average if properly stored. "How Stuff Works" claims their average shelf life is a measly 3 years. But if exposed to high heat, such as in the desert or in your car, the shelf life will drop to as little as 1 month. They're supposed to last at least 9 months in 100 degree weather.
Because high temperatures can play havoc with MRE's, they are not really suitable for a vehicle emergency kits (something they are often bought for), bug out bags, or anywhere else that is exposed to temperature fluctuations.
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 and dramatically affect the edibility of the food contained inside. 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.
MRE's are heavy and bulky...
For a 72 hour "bug out bag" this means...
Whereas the average freeze dried entree....
In our opinion this makes MRE's far too heavy for hiking purposes and certainly far to heavy and bulky for a bug out bag. 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 such a thing or tried to hump through the wilds with a 2 week supply on their back - a supply of this size would weigh at least 38.5 lbs and require over 4,032 cubic inches of space! And you'd still have to find the space for all your essential gear (and the strength to carry everything).
Clearly, this would be quite ridiculous and every MRE would be field stripped to its essentials, tossing out what was unwanted. But they would still be very heavy, bulky and expensive. For a lot of people (military included), the sheer waste of food that is tossed out make these a poor financial decision.
Years ago during the late 90's, I tried this myself, filling up my backpack with a 3 day supply of MRE's (2 per day). Needless to say, the total weight this added for such a short trip was quite ridiculous. I also found the "sameness" of the food very disappointing, definitely not something I was looking forward to after a day of hiking.
Soldiers issued MRE's will "field strip" them, tossing out everything that they don't like, want or need, dramatically reducing their size, calories and bulk. This has been a ubiquitous approach by the military for decades, but it's more proof just how unsuitable these things really are.
What is a good alternative to MRE's for my bug out bag or backpacking needs?
On average, the sodium content for a single MRE is a whopping 3800 milligrams!
|MRE Nutritional Facts|
|Calories from Fat|
The high-fat (averaging about 52 grams of fat, 5 grams trans fats) and high-salt content are less than ideal for sedentary situations. 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.
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. There's also a pretty limited selection of what is available.
In March 2007, The Salt Lake Tribune invited three gourmet chefs to taste-test 18 MRE meals. None of the meals rated higher than a 5.7 average on a scale of 1-to-10, and the chicken fajita meal, in particular, was singled out for disdain, rating an average score of 1.3. - source Wikipedia 
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.
Yet MRE's are generall pretty bad, as this CNN article reveals:
Much like on the battlefield, one of the main obstacles in the study is finding people to commit to a steady diet of ready-to-eat meals. MREs are generally regarded as tasteless, if not bad, which is perhaps understandable considering the wide battery of requirements they must meet to guarantee shelf life and meet strict nutritional benchmarks.
Some of the early MRE main courses were not very palatable, earning them the nicknames "Mr. E" (mystery), "Meals Rejected by Everyone", "Meals, Rarely Edible", "Meals Rejected by the Enemy", "Morsels, Regurgitated, Eviscerated", "Mentally Retarded Edibles", "Meal Ready to Expel", "Meal, Ready to Excrete", "Materials Resembling Edibles", "Morale Reducing Elements", and even "Meals Rejected by Ethiopians" (in reference to the 1983-1985 famine in Ethiopia). Some meals got their own nicknames. For example, the frankfurters, which came sealed in pouches of four, were referred to as "the four fingers of death". Although quality has improved over the years, many of the nicknames have stuck. MREs were sometimes called "Three Lies for the Price of One": it's not a Meal, it's not Ready, and you can't Eat it.
Their low dietary fiber content could cause constipation in some, so they were also known as "Meals Requiring Enemas","Meals Refusing to Exit", "Meals Refusing to Excrete", or "Massive Rectal Expulsions". While the myth that the gum found in MREs contains a laxative is false (however, they are sweetened with xylitol, which has a mild laxative effect), the crackers in the ration pack do contain a higher than normal vegetable content to facilitate digestion. In December 2006, comedian Al Franken (on his 8th USO tour at the time) joked to troops in Iraq that he had had his fifth MRE so far and "none of them had an exit strategy".
Their high far and calorie content means that you can survive on just one per day, although you would definitely not feel "full" all day (it would be slow starvation if this is all you ate). 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 and what they contain.
Even the military is well aware of this problem with gastrointestinal issues:
The U.S. Army Institute of Environmental Medicine is looking for volunteers (PDF) to eat military food rations for 21 consecutive days for a study of the impact of Meals, Ready-to-Eat, or MREs, on gut health. Researchers want to learn how MREs influence the millions of bacteria in troops' digestive systems.
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.
Please take the time to read the actual experiences others have had with MRE's:
Civilian Destroyed After Eating MRE's and
I Ate Nothing But MREs for 21 Days Straight and Here's What It Did To Me.
We are not kidding. YOU WILL GET SERIOUSLY SICK if you consume too many of these. Low energy, nausea, bloating and constant trips to the bathroom.
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).
You might have noticed we skipped "The Good" because we don't believe that MRE's are better then their counterparts. We don't store any MRE's ourselves, finding them unsuitable for food storage, for camping, for backpacking and for anything else. They may be the meal issued to soldiers in the field, but that doesn't mean their good. What it really means is we can do a better job with better food for our soldiers and our emergency preparedness folks too.
We've eaten quite a few MRE's ourselves (many hundreds in fact) and frankly, would rather have something else to chow down on if at all possible. We do not personally stock any MRE's in our personal food storage anymore because there are lighter and healthier alternatives available.
After about 4 years, the MRE's we had stored were unfit to eat. Even our dog refused to eat them (beefsteak MRE's), which was surprising considering his normal appetite for devouring everything in sight. In the end we had to toss them out, wasting all of that time, money, effort and space. I simply do not store them anymore as part of our food storage program.
I can't think of any worst situation then one in which you turn to your food supply years after purchasing it, only to find out that it's ruined or unfit to eat. Then what are you going to do? You'll have lost your money and your food supply will be useless. Even worse, when that "day" comes - and you belatedly discover you have nothing to eat, you are looking at a extremely serious life-threatening situation - all because your food storage was not properly planned out.
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. The military rotates these things out rapidly. Humanitarian organizations do the same things. They need a ready-to-eat food to hand out to disaster survivors who can rip open the package and eat it on the spot. And that is exactly what they're good for and what they are intended for. They are not intended for long-term storage and never have been.
A few meals won't do you any real harm - but they aren't a 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 for 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).
MRE's remain in high demand - and for their intended usage, they can definitely serve a purpose in your food storage program. We recommend these for shorter durations or wherever you need ready to eat meals without any preperation (cooking). These can be passed out as needed for emergency disasters and eaten immediately. Keep them stored in a cool location to maximize their shelf life.
However, if you are looking for long term food storage, for less money, less weight, less sodium, better variety, a healthier alternative, and much longer shelf life, we definitely recommend freeze dried or dehydrated for long term food storage and emergency planning.
The advantages of freeze dried or dehydrated food are substantial:
Freeze dried and dehydrated storable foods are hands down the best option of all ALL food storage options available today, including canned, frozen, or supermarket foods (see testing results). We're speaking from extensive, real-life experience as both sellers of all types of emergency food, and consumers. We eat these types of foods every single day and have for nearly 24 years now. We know what works, and we know what doesn't work. We gave up on MRE's and never looked back. Proper food storage that works is REAL FOOD that allows you good nutrition, lightweight, long shelf life and a endless variety of meals.
Simply put, these are foods that can last decades in your pantry, which makes them a fantastic investment. Enjoy them any time or save them up for a rainy day emergency, but don't be unprepared without them.
We highly recommend reading "Why We Do Not Recommend Survival Food Buckets" for further details on what to know and what to avoid in your food storage program.