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How Long Do Military MREs Last? – Military Matters

Written by Everett Bledsoe / Fact checked by Brain Bartell

how long do military mres last

If you do not already know, MREs are ready-to-eat meals in the military. They come as rations in sealed packages lighter than cans and durable enough to withstand drops and other forms of impact. Military members usually buy MREs in bulk for convenience.

However, this comes with the question, “How long do military MREs last?” Continue reading to find out! We will tell you, “How long are MREs good for?” and provide other relevant info.

What Are MREs?


We have given you a brief introduction of MREs above. But in this section, let’s revisit and dive a bit deeper into what MREs are. This is what they look like:

Each package like this contains everything needed for one meal. Generally, it includes an entree, side dish, some crackers with spread, dessert, and hot drink like instant coffee. Milk powder and sugar are usually also included for the coffee. Some MREs contain hot sauce or seasoning, too.

  • The entree can be spaghetti or beef stew.
  • The side dish can be rice, fruit, mashed potatoes, or corn.
  • The dessert can be cookies or pound cakes.

There may be a spoon, spork (combo of spoon and fork), napkin, and even a flameless heater for your entree. These military MREs have about 1,250 calories. So, three of these a day will provide you the standard per-day amount of calories. The content percent are usually 51% carbohydrates, 36% fat, and 13% protein. In addition, there is 1/3 of the daily military allowance of vitamins and minerals in each package.

The MREs will also come with instructions on how to carry out the heating process, so there are no worries about possibly “going wrong.”

There are plenty of pros to stocking up on MREs. Compared to freeze-dried food, MREs are:

  • More versatile. You can eat them hot or cold.
  • Having the option to eat MREs cold entails that you do not have to worry about having gas or electricity.
  • Easier to prepare. You do not have to add water.
  • This is especially important if you have limited clean water and want to prioritize drinking.

Since everything is packed in a single pouch, you just need to grab it and go. There is no chance of forgetting certain contents, like sugar for your coffee. Furthermore, you know that you will be taking in a set amount of calories each time.

Some MREs also include accessories such as toilet paper. This is quite handy for emergencies. It is also helpful to have the heating equipment, which can aid in areas other than cooking/eating.

MREs’ history traces back to World War II, during the K-rations and C-rations. They eventually developed into MCIs: meal combat individual rations in the Vietnam and Korea Wars. In 1980, they became MREs: meals ready to eat. They remain one of the U.S military’s essential ration.

Although MREs are originally designed for the military, today, many are also sold for civilians. It is possible to MREs from anywhere, at any time of the day. They are, however, especially crucial during emergencies.

Since MREs are now available for many groups of people, new options are offered to cater to various diets. For example, vegetarian, gluten-free, and low-sodium MREs.

The only downside is that MREs are more expensive than dried-frozen meals. An MRE pouch is typically from 8 to 10 dollars, while a case of 12 MREs can be from 80 to 100 dollars. Possible drawbacks can also be that MREs are heavy and difficult to find in grocery stores.

How Long Are MREs Good for?

MREs have a reputation for having the longest shelf life more than any other packed food. They are designed to last for a long time, even without being refrigerated. Moreover, they can endure extreme conditions. But as with all foods, they are not invincible and cannot last forever.

While there is no set MRE expiration date, its shelf life can be estimated.

  • On average, at 75 degrees Fahrenheit, MREs can last for 5 years.
  • At 80 degrees Fahrenheit, MREs are safe to eat for up to 3 years.
  • In cooler temperatures, their shelf lives can extend beyond 10 years.
  • But stored at 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the real shelf life of MREs is only about a month.

Why Can’t We Just Look at the Dates Stamped on the MRE?


MREs are not stamped with an expiration date because their shelf lives depend on how they are stored. Instead, if you look at the MRE packaging, you will find the ‘manufacturing date’ and the ‘MRE inspection date.’ Both of these are not the same as the expiration date.

1. The Manufacturing Date

This is a four-digit code, where the first digit indicates the year and the rest of the digits specify the day of the year. For instance, an MRE printed with 4169 denotes that it was manufactured on June 19, 2014.

2. The Inspection Date

Typically, the inspection date is 3 to 5 years after the meal was packed. As implied in the name, it is the date you are supposed to check in on the meals for any signs that it is going off.

3. Problems with The 4-Digit Code System

There are two main problems. First, it is difficult to figure out the day of the year without access to a calendar or the Internet. Second, you cannot differentiate between the decades. Since only 1 number is used to indicate the year, a “7″ for example, can be 2017 or 2007.

As a result, it is not easy to make plans on when to eat a certain MRE and to have peace of mind.

Signs That You Should NOT Eat Your MRE

To decide whether your MRE is still good and safe to eat, look for the following signs:

  • Damaged Packaging: If your MRE pouches are torn, ripped, or punctured, air could have entered and spoiled the food content.
  • Swollen Packaging: This is a strong indicator that there are botulism-causing bacteria. It is not safe to eat if this is the case.

That being said, if you decide to eat your MRE and realize it tastes funny or smells strange, it is best to ditch the package. Remember: better safe than sorry!

Some military MRE cases feature a time and temperature indicator. This is basically a label with two circles. The inner circle darkens over time and at higher temperatures, and when it is darker than the outer circle, you can take it as a sign the MRE has gone past its recommended shelf life.

It is also crucial to note that some content of an MRE may spoil faster than others. Spreads, such as cheese, applesauce, and peanut butter typically will not last long as packaged meals or candy.

Tips on Storing MREs

Like other foods, it is best to store MREs in places with cool, dry temperatures. Also, be sure to avoid direct sunlight and areas where rodents likely venture. Try to store them off the ground as well. This way, in case something leaks or spills, moisture cannot damage the MREs’ packaging.

It is not recommended to freeze MREs, as freezing can damage the laminated packaging, and if the contents are frozen, then thawed many times, they can spoil.


Now, you know the answer to, “How long do military MREs last?” It is helpful to keep what you have read in mind, as unlike other food items, the expiration date is not printed on MREs’ pack. If you liked this article, please leave comments for us. Share this with other readers as well!

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