How Long Do MREs Last?

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By Bryan Lynch •  5 min read

One of the most popular emergency, survival, or outdoor adventure food options available is the MRE. MRE stands for Meals Ready to Eat.

They are a pre-packaged food item that does not require refrigeration, nor do they require cooking before they can be consumed, hence the name.

MREs were originally designed for government and military use but due to their popularity in recent years, private companies began making them for the general public.

Nowadays, most people are used to flipping a product over to find an exact expiration date, although it is becoming more common to find best-by dates instead.

MREs have neither of these, which can cause some confusion when a person is trying to determine if the MRE is still good or how long it will last.

When I first bought an MRE I too was confused by this as I’m sure many people are. The question at hand then, is “how long do they last?” After a little bit of research, I have found some answers that may help you out in determining if the MREs you have are still good and how much longer they will last.

Manufacturing Date

As I mentioned before, MREs do not have expiration or best-by dates. Instead, they are stamped with manufacturing dates. However, these stamps can be confusing because they do not simply read January 10, 2019. A simple four-digit number is used in its place which consists of the year followed by the Julian date.

The Julian date refers to the actual numbered day of the year, drawing from the 365 days there are in one year. Let’s detail this out a bit more by using the example date from above.

If the manufacturing date of an MRE was January 10, 2019, then the four-digit stamp would read 9010.

Where 9 represents the year 2019 and 010 represents the tenth day of the year.

Let’s do one more example that is a little bit harder. 

May 18, 2015, would appear on a package as 5138.

The five represents the year 2015 and the 1,3,8 represents the 138th day of the year.

Once you know this, figuring out the manufacturing date is pretty straightforward, although this usually raises another question. If the stamp on an MRE reads 5138, how do you know if it is from 2015 and not 2005?

The short answer is that you don’t, but the following should help. Generally speaking, MREs have a maximum shelf life of five years. So, if you are buying MREs brand new and from a reputable company, the MRE should be from the more recent year, which would be 2015. On the other hand, if you are buying them secondhand or from a source that may not be trustworthy then you really do not know and the MRE could be from 2005. Therefore when buying MREs it is always best practice to purchase them directly from the manufacturing company or a trusted source.

Storage Conditions

Even though MREs do not require refrigeration, their shelf life is determined by the temperatures they are stored at. According to Sure-Pak’s website (a manufacturer of MREs), MREs are good for the following amount of time, based on storage temperatures.

TemperatureShelf Life
100 degrees1 year
90 degrees2.5 years
80 degrees3.5 years
70 degrees5 years

As you can see, shelf life is extended by storing MREs in cool temperatures and the shelf life is shortened by storing them in warmer temperatures. Additionally, MREs should not be exposed to freezing temperatures because this could damage the seals on all the packages. If the seals become damaged there is a good chance that the meals will spoil.

This doesn’t seem to apply only to Sure-Pak MREs and from what I could find the above data appears to be about the same for most MRE brands.

Ways To Tell If A MRE Has Gone Bad

The first way to tell if an MRE is still good is by looking at the manufacturing date that we have already discussed, but here are a few more things to consider.

The dry food items such as the crackers or candies will usually last longer than “wet” items like the entrée or spreads. If any of the packages “puff” up or have the appearance that air has gotten into them, this is most likely an indication that there are bacteria inside and the package should be thrown away.

The package should also be thrown away if, after opening, the food smells bad or rancid. If you are not sure if the food is good or bad, the safest course of action is to not consume it.


MREs can be a great investment and are a quick and filling meal that can be used for emergencies or any outdoor adventure. I hope that the information in this article has made it easier for you to determine whether an MRE is still any good and how long they last. Bon appetit!

If you have any thoughts or questions about MREs be sure to leave a comment below. Thanks for reading and stay prepared.

Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021.