MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) Shelf Life

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Originally designed for the U.S. government, MREs—or Meals Ready to Eat—are compact pouches that contain delicious, ready-to-eat foods. The U.S. Space Program, Military, Forest Service, and FEMA have used MREs since the 1970s. In more recent years, many foreign governments have started using them, as well.

Shelf life has always been an important factor in the development and testing of rations for the U.S. government. All MRE foods are packaged in triple-layer plastic/aluminum pouches that have better storage qualities for military use than heavy cans. The food in these pouches is precooked and sealed at a high temperature; bacteria are neutralized and the food is shelf-stable even when stored at room temperature. Some of the best information available on MRE shelf life is the storage life chart (see below) compiled by the U.S. Army’s Natick Research Laboratories. This chart provides a good overview and summary of the findings gathered from their testing of MRE products:

MRE Chart

More about MRE Shelf Life

The shelf life ratings shown in the chart above were determined by taste panels of “average” people— mostly office personnel—at the Natick lab. Their opinions were combined to determine when the MRE ration was no longer acceptable.

The shelf life determinations were made solely on the basis of taste, as acceptable nutritional content and basic product safety extend far beyond the point where taste degradation would occur. This means that MREs would be safe and give a high degree of food value long after the timing suggested in the chart, as you can see by watching the short video below. We had some 30-year-old MREs tested at a food lab to make sure old MREs are safe to eat while still maintaining their nutrients. The results were quite enlightening:

MRE pouches have been tested and designed according to standards much stricter than for commercial food. They must be able to stand up to abuse tests such as obstacle course traversal in field clothing pockets; storage outdoors anywhere in the world; shipping under extremely rough circumstances (such as by truck over rocky terrain); 100% survival of parachute drops; 75% survival from free failure drops; severe repetitive vibration (1 hour at G vibration); 7,920 individual pouch drops from 20 inches; and individual pouches being subject to a static load of 200 pounds for three minutes.

Freezing an MRE pouch does not destroy the food inside, but repeated freezing increases the chance that the stretching and stressing of the pouch will cause a break on a layer of the laminated pouch. These pouches are made to withstand 1,000 flexes, but repetitive freezing does increase the failure rate by a small fraction of a percent.


Note: Time and temperature have a cumulative effect. For example, storage at 100° for 11 months then moved to storage at 70° would lose one-half of the 70° storage life. Also avoid fluctuating temperatures, in and out of freezing levels. Due to the cumulative effect of time and temperature, a regular rotation of MRE’s within 5 to 7 years is recommended.


32 Responses

    • Hi, Thomas.
      I’m not sure, to tell you the truth. If you want to call in to our sales team, they might be able to check for you. We build those packs ourselves, so the various MREs may be from different manufacturers and have different expiration dates.

  • For a professional, Sarah, bad answer. YOU should call your sales team for the customer and get the answer for the client! He wasn’t asking "who he should call" he was asking you, the representative of the company.

    • That’s a great point, Pat. I’ll certainly be more mindful of that in the future. Thanks for your feedback.

  • Hi I received a few mre’s with a number printed and wanted to clarify the meaning " 12006B2 14:23, is it telling me item was produced January 2006? Thank you for any assistance.

    • Hi Frank,

      Sorry that it took a little to get back to you, but I wanted to make sure I was telling you the correct information before I responded. This is a “Julian Code.” Usually the first two digits (12) in a Julian Code signal the year, so your MRE was made in the year, 2012. The next three digits (006) signal the day of the year that the MRE was made. So, this MRE was made on the 6th day of 2012 (this is counting 365 days in the year). Your MRE was made on January 6th, 2012. The Julian code can also change based on the manufacture. For some MREs the first number indicates the year and the next three, the day of the year it was created. Here’s an example: 2332A (this code means the product was made in 2012 on the 332 day). Usually, MREs have a seven year shelf life depending on the storage conditions (so they aren’t exposed to oxygen, moisture, temperature (sitting in a hot or freezing shed for years), and light. In proper conditions, your MRE will last you until 2019!


      • No! Standard last long for 36months at 80F! Never 7yrs!!! The 84months is not usualy life but its MAX life at 60F degs! Also TTI must not be degraded…

  • If we stored the MRE’s in a bucket with the storage absorbers like the foods that can be stored for 20+ yrs would that make them last longer?

    • Hi Christina,
      This was a great question! However, using storage absorbers (or what we call oxygen absorbers) will not prolong the shelf life of the MREs even if they are stored in a bucket. Oxygen absorbers are used to preserve and prolong the life of dry foods, which MREs typically are not. Also, you’ll notice that if you buy a can of, let say, freeze-dried peas from us, when you open the can, you’ll see that the peas are in the can and an oxygen absorber is buried within the peas. So Oxygen absorbers need to be buried within the food for them to do their job. Since MREs come individually packaged already, the Oxygen absorber won’t be able to do its job completely because it doesn’t have direct contact with the food. There are ways to extend the shelf life of the MREs some. If you store them in an area that has a constant cool temperature that will extend the shelf life some (another year or two), but it will not be able to last 20 years the same way as other freeze-dried foods would. Hope this helps!

      • As Angela wrote, no absorbers has no prolonging impact! Be noted MRE is NOT dryed food! Last long span is 3-84months as function of storage temperature…

  • I have some MREs from the early 1999 . we tried on of them about 6 months ago and we are still here. they where at temperature about 70 degrees f..i believe that that is the life of them also they where in the dark…

  • No matter how you look at it, MRE’s are at best a temporary solution. They are good for camping, current emergencies, or near future uses. What is not said is that they are 1/2 the calories of REAL MRE’s . These are at best contractor or humanitarian MRE’s . NOT MILITARY MRE’s!!!
    For the same amount of money (aprox) get Mountain house pouches, bring your own spoon and have the food last well over 7 years , as long as the pouch isn’t torn.
    After having to throw out MRE’s older than 7 years , I would never buy them again. Even for emergencies Mountain House beats them.
    And after being in the Military mre’s taste = 2 , Mountain House = 99.
    They are at best over rated and and definitely over rated.
    In a recent case of MRE’s with a package date of 2009, there were items with a manufacture date of ’06, ’07, 08!!!!!
    So buyer beware!
    Any one with questions feel free to contact me,

  • When checking the MRE heaters on your site it mentioned to check here for a shelf life of the heaters, yet there was no info concerning the heaters. Most people don’t even consider the MRE heater to have a shelf life, at least I didn’t when I tried to warm a meal with a 15 yr old Military MRE heater. It did not work. Is there a recommended shelf life on the heaters or did I just have a bad one?

    • Lon,
      Thanks for your comment. I went and read the product description on the MRE heaters and the reference to shelf life is for the MREs themselves, not the heaters. We do not have a solid shelf life for the MRE heater, but just to be safe, we suggest keeping them for 7 years (the same shelf life for your MREs) to make sure they’re in good working order.

  • I purchased some MRE’s from EE in 2010…one of the date codes is 0109B…how do I know this is referring to 2010 and not 2000?


    • Hi, Todd.
      Our MREs range from the same year up to roughly 2 years old when they leave our warehouse. If they are closer to the 2 year mark, we will advertise that they are near that time frame. The majority of our MREs are closer to the six month to year mark on age. Because you purchased them in 2010 and it shows 0109, it is safe to say they are from 2010 due the fact that we wouldn’t have sent out MREs that were ten years old.

    • That’s the problem with those 4 digit date codes – could be 2000 or 2010. If you have a picture of the MRE you could send, I could probably tell by how it looks and what menu it is – the 2000 MRE bags used a different design and probably had a different menu than the 2010 versions.

  • Re. MRE’s (the 9-meal supply on sale for $35) approx. how many calories per day will it supply? Please advise. I need an honest answer before I buy. Thanks.

  • Having a family of five and wanting a 6 months supply, what would the calculations on how many MRE’s are needed?

  • I see there’s a troll for Mountain House. Notwithstanding militaty use (retired vet) MREs are great for camping, etc. But I buy them for preparedness issues, like emergency evac. However, to ensure freshness I get mine at the military commissary. I do store the canned freeze dried foods for long term and bulk. Never had a complaint about MREs taste or heaters and my friends love it when I rotate my stock because they get my “leftovers”.

  • I have MRE’s with the code “8126M2 1 2AF 1”. Does that signify they were packaged on the 126th day of 1998? If so, would they be safe? They have been stored in a container in a cool dark place. Would taste be the test, or should they just be discarded?

    • That code actually give those MREs a manufacture date of May 5, 2008. Because the recommended shelf life of MREs is 5-7 years, you might want to consider getting rid of them. That being said, I know people have eaten 20-year-old MREs and they were just fine. A little taste test might not hurt, but our official recommendation is that they’re probably no longer good.

    • Hi Lou! We receive our MREs newly packaged and rotate through them within a few months. So at most, your MRE will have been packaged about three months ago.

  • To the Mountain House troll: When it comes to survival, nutrition far exceeds flavor in priority. MH products contain an unhealthy amount of sodium- check the labels.

    MREs are not only tasty and economical, but specifically more nutritious- many having to meat Mil-Spec.

    DISCLAIMER: I have absolutely no connection to any of these companies.

  • I am interested in buying a 1200/units of MRE’s.

    I have researched and understand the U.S. Army’s Natick Research Laboratories study. Can you send me the link that actually shows MREs will last 80 months? I’ve never seen the above graph before.

    All the research I’ve done says they will last up to 72 months if stored at around 60 degrees. If you provide me more information than I will go ahead and purchase. If the graph is incorrect you should remove it because it’s false advertising. I hope it isn’t.
    I look forward to hearing back from you.


    • Hi Jay,

      There are many variables involved in MRE shelf life, however, most research does point to a maximum of 60 months shelf life, as you mentioned.

      That being said, we had some 30-year-old MREs tested at a 3rd party food lab to see how well it lasted. As it turns out, 360 months still showed the MREs maintained their nutrients, didn’t have any bacteria or other harmful substances, and still tasted good. So while the safe answer is 60 months, 80 months is certainly doable, and 360 months is still an achievable goal. I’ve updated the video on this page with the one showing the results of the lab testing for you to see for yourself. I hope that answers your question!

  • Folks, it all boils down to what situation you are planning for. I just started my preps and plan on making the base of my food storage freeze dried 10 cans due to the incredible shelf life. Next will be beans and rice I packed in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers then placed in five gallon buckets. The top level of my storage pyramid will be MRE’s. I have eaten a few that were 10+ years old and they were fine. I also plan to store heirloom seeds and learn to can. I think diversifying is important.

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