Why MREs Make Great Emergency Food
While you might not want to make MREs, meals ready to eat, your entire emergency food supply, it certainly is a good idea to have a quantity of them on hand. During a disaster or emergency, you might have no electric power, meaning that perishable food will soon spoil. If you have an electric stove, you will also not be able to cook. MREs are designed to be equally palatable whether they are eaten cold or hot, although most people will want to warm them before they are consumed.
When MREs first made their appearance in the 1960s, they were food for soldiers in the field, and had been developed by the U.S. Army. These early MREs were considered to be pretty grim, and were given designations such as "meals rejected by everyone" and "materials resembling edibles". Fortunately, by the 1990s, steps had been taken to not only provide more variety in the MREs, but also to make them more palatable. Today, manufacturers of MREs supply these meals not only to the military but to the general public.
MREs have advanced far from the days when one of the meals was referred to as the ‘four fingers of death’, to delicious meals such as buffalo chicken, spaghetti with meat sauce, pork rib, and beef brisket. These meals are enjoyed even by children, who are generally fussy eaters. There are even MREs made for vegetarians such as vegetable lasagna and veggie burger with BBQ sauce.
Heating A MRE
Although MREs are fully cooked and designed to be eaten cold, most people will want to warm their meal up before eating it, especially if it’s cold. MREs (unopened) can be put into a pot of clean water and boiled for 4 to 5 minutes to heat thoroughly. You can also use flameless ration heaters to warm the food up to about 100 degrees F.
Shelf Life and Storage
Commercially dehydrated and freeze dried food has a very long shelf life, up to 25 years, as long as it is kept in the proper conditions. MREs, on the other hand, have a shorter shelf live, and under ideal storage conditions can generally be expected to retain all their nutritional qualities for up to 5 years. However, this shelf life can be shortened if the MREs are exposed to higher than normal temperatures. The pouches that contain these meals are designed to be resistant to damage. Freezing in itself will not impact the MRE, but repeated cycles of freezing and thawing can cause the pouch itself to lose its integrity and render the meal useless because of contamination.
As MREs were originally used by soldiers in the field, they were designed to provide complete nutrition. Each complete MRE (appetizer, soup, main course, dessert) provides approximately 1200 calories, although the individual meals will, of course, be less. While you might not want to serve your family MREs on a permanent basis, they do make ideal emergency rations, especially when normal cooking is impossible.