How are MREs Preserved? (The Facts)

MREs, otherwise known as Meals Ready-to-Eat, are used by the United States military to feed soldiers while they are deployed. They are made to last a very long time and withstand extreme conditions. But how are they preserved?

MREs are packaged and preserved in vacuum-sealed packages after they are cooked. To kill any bacteria, after the MRE is cooked, it is packaged and boiled. After boiling, it is then put into another sealed package and labeled.

The packaging of the MRE is essential to the preservation of the food in the MRE, but what exactly does the packaging consist of?

MRE Packaging

The MRE packaging is officially known as a tri-laminate retort pouch. It essentially is a pouch made out of multiple layers of foil and plastic. However, the pouch is made out of other materials also to prevent damage to the MRE and the food inside.

Polyester (PET) – The polyester layer provides a gloss and rigid layer, and it may be printed inside.

Nylon (bi-oriented polyamide) – The nylon layer provides puncture resistance and helps the food stay preserved. It also prevents any bacteria from getting into the food.

Aluminum (Al) – The aluminum layer provides a very thin but effective gas barrier and helps preserve the MRE.

Food-grade cast polypropylene (CPP) – This layer is used as the main sealing layer. Source

The MRE also comes with a pouch that heats the MRE, snacks, salt and pepper, and utensils.

What If An MRE Is Punctured?

If the packaging of an MRE is punctured, check the food inside. If the food pouch has been punctured recently, give it a smell test. If it still looks good, and it does not smell like it has expired or begun to mold, then it should be okay to eat it. However, if the package has begun to swell, do not eat it. Throw it away because the food is no longer good to eat and may cause you to become ill.

How Long Do MREs Last?

MREs can last up to 10 years if they are stored in the right conditions. While MREs are made to withstand extreme conditions, if they are stored at 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, they only last for six months. However, if you store them at 80 degrees or lower, then they last for around 3 years. MREs last for 5-10 years if they are stored at 60 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, which is impressive.

Do MREs Have Preserved Meat?

Many MREs have different kinds of meat in them, and the MRE itself is preserved. However, the meat inside the MRE is not typically preserved separately from the other food that is inside the MRE. Before the MRE was invented, the United States military would serve the soldiers preserved and salted meat. However, the invention of the MRE packaging and technology has made that practice unnecessary.

Not all MREs have meat in them. There are vegetarian and Halal options served by the military. If you are a civilian that purchases an MRE outside of the military, then those options may be limited. Companies that manufacture MREs tend to have a smaller variety of MREs to choose from than the military does.

Why Were MREs Invented?

MREs were invented in 1975 by the Department of Defense. However, they were not mass-produced until 1978 and were not delivered to soldiers until 1981. MREs were invented because the United States ration system was not the best. During WWII, soldiers carried their rations in cans, and the food preserved inside took a long time to heat because the heat had to get through the thick tin can to warm the food.

This required soldiers to stay in one place for long periods of time to eat, which was not always possible while on the battlefield.

MREs are better alternatives to canned food for soldiers because the MREs are flat and flexible, while cans are round and heavy. The MRE packaging is lightweight and can be squished or rolled without damaging the food inside.

Cans are not flexible, and if the can is damaged, the food inside can become unsafe to eat very quickly, which is why the United States military came up with the MRE system and still uses it to this day.

How Can I Tell If An MRE Is Expired?

On the outside packaging of an MRE, there are two circles inside one another. This is the internal temperature gauge, and it is used by soldiers to tell if the MRE is safe to eat or not. If the outside circle is darker than the inside one, then it should be okay to eat. However, if the inside circle is darker than the one surrounding it, then the MRE is no longer safe to eat and should be thrown away.

If the packaging of the MRE is still sealed but has swelled, then the food is no longer safe to eat and should be disposed of immediately. This means that the MRE is expired and has become unsafe to eat.

Can I Make MREs At Home?

It is possible to preserve food at home, but it is not necessarily possible to make an MRE outside of a place that manufactures them because of all of the layers that consist of the MRE pouch.

If you want to preserve your food, then it is possible to get a machine that vacuum-seals food, and you can make MREs that way. However, this is not considered to be an MRE because the MRE is cooked, sealed, boiled, and then sealed again.

The MREs also have a pouch that has special chemicals that heat the MRE without any fire or water. These are things that are nearly impossible to get if you are a civilian. So no, you cannot make an MRE at home.

However, it is possible to preserve your food at home. There are many different food preservation options which include the following: canning, vacuum sealing, drying, salting, freezing, etc. Whichever method you use, it is important to follow strict instructions on how it is to be done.

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