Food storage tips: What is the shelf life of MREs?
11/15/2019 / By Grace Olson / Comments
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Food storage tips: What is the shelf life of MREs?

Meals Ready To Eat (MREs) are quite convenient. You can easily eat them and stock them. Moreover, they have a long shelf life – perfect for emergency food.

However, the amount of food you buy is useless if you don’t store them properly. While MREs are packaged to last a long time, their expiration dates change depending on the location, temperature, and manner of storage. (h/t to

How to properly store MREs

Most food supplies are stocked inside plastic containers for safekeeping. However, MRE’s already have their own packaging. The only thing that you need to consider now is the location.

MREs can last up to five years if they are stored at 80 F. However, they can last longer if they are refrigerated. After a disaster strikes, food production will cease, leading to depleted stores and markets. It’s best to have back-up food supply. (Related: How to make a nutritious superfood for survival that lasts decades.)

Here are some tips on storing MREs:

  • Make an inventory. Always make a list of your food supply. Divide them into four columns: type of food, number of stocks, production date, and expiration date. You can add another column for eaten stocks.
  • Always check the temperature. Higher temperatures lead to shorter shelf life. It is ideal to store them in cool locations.
  • Invest in a good-quality freezer. Storing MREs in a freezer won’t affect their quality. However, they do have a limit to the number of times you can freeze them (1,000 flexes). Repeated freezing may cause the packaging to stretch and break, risking contamination.
  • Use freezer-safe bags. In case you didn’t finish your meal, you can place it back in the freezer, just seal it in a freezer-safe bag first. If not, the food’s color and taste may change.

How to check if MREs are expired

Since their shelf lives are largely dependent on temperature, MREs don’t put expiration dates. Instead, manufacturers put codes for consumers to check. These codes are the manufacturing date and the inspection date.

Manufacturing date

The manufacturing date is a four-digit code, although some brands may have a letter. The first digit refers to the year of production while the rest pertains to a specific day of the year. For example, the packaging has an 4018 code on it. The “4” stands for the last digit of the year it was produced – in this case, 2014. On the other hand, “018” refers to the 18th day of the year: January 18.

To calculate the expiration date, simply add five years to the first digit, the production year. Make sure to write this in your inventory. Using the previous example, the expiration date would be 9018: January 18, 2019.

Time Temperature Indicator (TTI)

This is an orange sticker with a doughnut-shaped reddish circle in the middle. This code informs you of the freshness of the MRE. The inner circle is designed to change when exposed to temperature changes and how much time has passed.

When you first receive the case, the inner circle is still light. As time passes by and the case is exposed to temperature changes, the inner circle darkens, matching the color of the outer circle. This means that the MRE has reached its maximum shelf life. If the inner circle becomes darker than the outer circle, this means that the MRE has exceeded the recommended shelf life. When that happens, it is best if you don’t open the package anymore.

MREs are incredibly convenient, but proper storage is key. Learn more stockpiling food supplies and how to store them at

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