MREs are a handy way of getting some calories and basic nutrition when you’re out on the road. They are emergency food. They are not intended for long-term use, and if you are able to cook a more traditional meal on a camping stove or eat some fresh cold food, then that is a much better idea, in most cases. MRE meals offer a hot meal which contains a large number of calories to sustain you in an emergency, and they contain essential vitamins too, but they are not exactly light or friendly on the stomach so if you tried to subsist on them, you would probably experience gastric distress!
With that said, MREs are useful because they are shelf-stable, and they will survive for a long time. You can stick one in your bag and forget about it, and then if you’re stranded in the woods and can’t cook normal food because your camping stove has run out and it’s far too wet to light a fire, you’ll have options. If you’re on a short hike and get stuck because of bad weather, you can take shelter and pull out the meal to warm up while you wait out the storm. In those emergency situations, you’ll be glad you had something light, long-lasting, and calorie dense.
MREs Are Easy to Make
MREs contain everything you need to make them. You don’t need a stove or any pots and pans. Everything you need is inside the packet. Usually, when you rip open an MRE, you will find that it contains a few things – a packet of biscuits or crackers, some form of drink, some form of a savory snack, and then the main meal. It will also contain a cardboard wrapper, a pouch of saltwater, and a sleeve. The idea is that you tear open the sleeve and then empty the contents of the saltwater packet into it. The saltwater will react with the chemicals in the flameless hater pouch, to produce a lot of heat and steam, so it is important that you take care to hold the pouch by the side to avoid burning your hands. When you have filled the pouch with water, slip the MRE into it, fold over the top of the sleeve and seal it, then slide it into the cardboard sleeve.
The cardboard sleeve acts as an insulating wrapper. Leave the MRE standing upright against a rock, tree, or some other surface that will not be affected by the heat, and let the flameless heater do its thing.
Exactly how long the MRE will take to heat up depends on the brand, and information about this will be printed on the pack. Read the instructions, and follow them carefully. When the heater is done, carefully open the packet (there may still be some steam to escape), pull out the MRE and then tear open that pack. You can pour it into a bowl if you have one, or eat straight out of the pack.
Can You Eat MREs Cold?
MREs can be eaten cold if you wish. Most people prefer to heat them because they taste better warmed up.
MREs do not have a ‘use by’ date, but they do have a date that shows when they were packed. In addition, military MREs also have a circle and a ring on them, and that respond to heat to show whether or not the MRE is safe to eat. If the inner dot on the ring is lighter than the outside circle, then the MRE is safe to eat. If it is darker, then it is not safe.
If the MRE packet is damaged or is swollen, then that is a sign that the MRE is not safe to eat. Damage to the seal will have allowed air in, so bacteria can grow. Swelling of the packet means that there could be toxic bacteria already in the pack. Discard it immediately.
MREs with dry components have a longer shelf life than ones with mostly wet components. Early MREs had a lot of freeze-dried components in them, but most modern MREs do not, so it is important that you know what is in the MRE and what sort of life-expectancy the products have.
If you are planning on stocking up on MREs, stagger purchasing the stock so that you aren’t replacing a large number of them at a time. Try to keep them in a cool, temperature-stable place until you need to use them as well, because high temperatures will shorten the lifespan of the MRE. If you live in a warm climate, then the MREs could have a life-span of six months or even less – which makes them fine for camping trips, but not so ideal as a disaster-preparedness measure.