MREs are gross. Yup, I said it. I will also say that after a day of slogging around in the desert, in the mud, or in the jungle, there is nothing as satisfying as those little brown bags of grossness. They have a certain rustic appeal that only becomes familiar when you’ve been deployed for a while. I will say that I have never complained when I saw the chow hall go up, but in bare base situations, or long camping trips, nothing works better to fill your belly with calories. You just feel more manly when eating one of these cardboard delights. Civilians can purchase MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) through a number of sources. Online sources are the most prevalent, but there are several issues most people encounter where they aren’t sure the MREs are safe to eat.
First, I’ve eaten 11-year-old MREs that the owner stored in the garage before, and suffered absolutely no ill effects. I’m not even sure if it is possible to get sick from eating these things. As long as the package isn’t punctured or bloated, it’s probably good to go. If you are still concerned about the safety of an ancient MRE, then here is a brief explanation of how to read those pesky government date codes on the side of the packaging.
If you buy a box of actual military MREs, then you may get lucky. Many of these boxes have the date code written in plain English right on the side. Watch out though, these boxes have package dates, and inspection dates. The inspection date is typically three years after the packaging date. Sometimes you’ll have a nice date packed such as “05/08/2010” which you know to mean May 8, 2010. However, some boxes will use a different form such as “2268.” In this case, the first number “2” stands for the year (2002) and the next three numbers indicate which day of the year (365 days in a year) it was packed. Therefore, “2268” would be day 268 of the year 2002, or September 25th, 2002.
In addition, the individual packages inside the MREs are date coded as well, using the same code cited in the previous paragraph. By opening an MRE, you can find out the age of each individual component. It is important to note that in 2003, the outside of the MRE packages were not date coded, so you would have to open them to find out the age.
A quick tip, if your MRE is tan, rather than dark brown, then you have one that is newer than 1995. Eating something older than 17 years would be pushing it for me. I would probably not get sick, but the idea of chowing down on something that freaking old makes my stomach turn.
When picking MREs, it helps to have someone there who has experience with them. Some of these meals taste better than others. I’ve always been a fan of the beef stew, chicken breast, and boneless pork chop, and stay away from the vegetarian one if you can, you’ll thank me.