MRE vs. Freeze Dried Food – Do You Know the Difference?

Do you know the difference when comparing MRE vs. Freeze Dried Food? One of the most common mistakes people make when considering food storage is the mistake that MRE’s and freeze dried food are synonymous, which they are not.

The first and most noticeable is the difference in how the food is eaten and prepared. MRE stands for “meals ready to eat.” MRE”s come in sealed packages of already prepared food that can be opened and immediately eaten.

MRE vs. Freeze Dried FoodThese packages usually contain “heaters” that set off a chemical reaction and warm your food within minutes. MRE”s are the “ultimate” on the go food and were designed for our military for that very reason.

Freeze dried and dehydrated foods come in packages where the food can be “cooked” or “rehydrated” in the container that it comes in by adding boiling water, or in larger packages that you pull a specific portion size out of and “cook” in a separate bowl or pot with boiling water.

Freeze dried and dehydrated foods offer larger portions, a better variety of meals, and usually require 1 – 2 cups of boiling water to prepare.

However, the biggest difference is shelf life. Bulk freeze-dried and dehydrated food has a 20+ year shelf life. These foods do not require rotation and can be set on a shelf and literally forgotten for twenty years.

MRE”s, if stored correctly, have a 3 – 5 year shelf life. The best analogy that I can think of is that MREs are like normal canned food that you buy at the grocery store. Most of these foods have the same type of shelf life.

So, if you are considering using MRE”s in your survival food storage planning, you want to include them in the Short or Medium Term survival food storage category. You should rotate and consume these rations about every three years. When planning for “Long Term” survival food storage, it’s wiser and cheaper to use freeze dried and dehydrated foods

Anatomy of an MRE

MRE stands for “meal ready to eat” and is typically associated with the military, and as of late, hikers and campers. They are a self-contained meal that includes an entree, side dish, bread, candy or dessert, and drink. They are pre-cooked and sealed in a sturdy, compact pouch. The pouch is then sterilized using heat.

How Long Do MREs Last?

An MRE has a shelf life of 3-5 years, depending on the conditions of storage. MREs should be stored in a cool, dark place away from high temperatures and sunlight until ready to use. When storing them, always note the expiration date and be sure to add them to your food rotation to consume before the use by date.

MRE vs. Freeze Dried FoodsDo You Sell “Real” MRE’s?

We get this question quite often and the short answer is, no. In fact, the Military has made it known to MRE producers that they are to draw a distinct line between civilian and military MRE’S.

This is because people are saving their rations while in service, or stealing their military issued MRE’s to sell on Ebay or Amazon. The truth is, they can get in some real trouble from selling real military MREs if they were obtained illegally.

Other Websites Sell “Real” Military MRE’s, What’s Up With That?

Real Military MRE’s do exist, but are not manufactured for the public. Meaning, if you get hold of a “real” MRE, it was probably sold as surplus to Army / Navy type stores or liberated from the Military.

The biggest problem with buying “Real” military MRE’s is the shelf life. MRE’s have a limited shelf life that is adversely affected when they are stored in temperatures over 80 degrees.

Most of the authentic MREs that you will find will be well into their production date, and if they were stored in places like Iraq, where the heat is brutal, you may be looking at a 6 month shelf life.

The truth is; you’ll never know if the MRE is any good until you open it. We advise our readers to steer clear of the “authentic” MREs, unless you have first-hand knowledge from where they came.

How Do You Prepare MREs?

MREs can be eaten cold straight out of the package, but they taste best when warmed. Here are the various methods of preparation:Put the unopened pouch in a pan of warm, not hot water to heat for 5-10 minutes and remove.

MRE vs. Freeze Dried FoodRemove the contents of the package and place in a pan or cooking dish and heat until warm. Lay the unopened pouch on a warm surface, such as a hot rock if you are camping. Allow it to absorb the heat before eating.

Heat the unopened MRE using a Water Activated Flameless Heater. The FRH is composed of powdered food grade iron, magnesium, and salt, which react with water and cause an exothermic reaction.

Typically, they come in a sealed polybag which you cut the top off of, place the MRE in next to the heater, add water to the fill line, and let it rest for 12 minutes. After the time is up, the food is hot and ready to eat.

It’s very important to follow the directions on the flameless heaters, particularly when removing the MRE from the bag, as it will be hot. The spent flameless heater pad and bag are not reusable, dump out the water and dispose of them in the trash.

Buying MREs

There are numerous varieties of “meals ready to eat” on the market; they include full meals, sandwiches, and even desserts. You can purchase military MREs, civilian MREs, or private label MREs, depending on which one best suits your needs.

However, since most of these MRE food producers are geared up for military MRE food production, they rarely offer exact choices when ordering. Meaning, they will usually list 6 -8 different entrees’ and will guarantee a mix of these entrees, but not a specific selection of entrees.

What Should I Know Before Buying an MRE?

MREs can be purchased online, at military surplus shops, and at gun shows. However, you should follow these guidelines when purchasing an MRE to avoid getting a bad product:

Buy only from a reliable and reputable dealer. MRE packages offered on sights such as eBay may not have the freshest product, and the storage conditions of the case are usually unknown. This means that the product could have been sitting in a hot garage or damp basement for who knows how long.

Don’t buy solely on price, cheaper doesn’t always mean it’s a better deal. Take into account the calories provided by each meal and be sure to check the complete list of contents; no one wants to be stuck with cases consisting only of “tuna surprise.” MREs are usually sold by the case, and the variety of meals differs among brands.

Make sure that you purchase meals that you and your family will like. MREs are a great product for short term emergencies, outdoor activities, and as part of a well- stocked bug-out-bag. You can also include them in your survival food storage as a complement to long term food packages and canned goods.

Skip over to our Survival Food 101 Tutorial for continued Reading …

Ameriqual APack

Ameriqual finally gets into the civilian MRE market with a very strong product. They offer a decent entree variety and do a good job in varying the spreads, sides, and desserts. The included heater is a big plus.

Pros: Lots of food per MRE – almost as many calories as a regular military MRE. Heater included (uses provided salt water packet). Beverage base is sugar/calorie-free – this frees up more calories for real food. Crackers! Nothing says MRE quite like those crackers.

Cons: No paper napkin; short, wide-mouth spoon helps you eat too much food too fast.

Sopakco Sure-Pak 12

The Sure-Pak 12 has been around the longest of all the civilian MREs. Of all the civilian MREs, this one comes closest to the military version. Even the meal bag is an almost exact duplicate of the military MRE bag with the exception that it’s clear and the menu info isn’t printed on the bag.

Pros: A real MRE spoon. A real MRE (plain water-based) heater can be included in the MRE bag. Instant coffee/creamer/sugar in every MRE. While entree variety is limited to six menus per case, the menus can differ between cases. Crackers and spreads in every MRE! The MRE bag is almost exactly like the military MRE bag.

Cons: Despite having a very MRE-like menu and good variety of sides/spreads/desserts, the calorie count for the Sure-Paks came in around 100 calories lower than its competitors.

Wornick Eversafe

Wornick Eversafes are back on the market with a new menu selection for this 4th interation. All items in the Eversafes are now the same military-type items found in other civilian MREs so this new offering should provide a good option for emergency preparedness foods.

Pros: The highest calorie count out of all the civilian MREs – almost as much as a regular military MRE. Good combination of main entrees and sides, good variety of peanut butter/cheese spread. FRH is activated with regular water. Coffee and creamer in every MRE.

Cons: Beverages and desserts could use some variety. Limited dealers available.


XMRE is an International Company that manufactures, assembles and markets shelf stable food products. XMRE possesses decades of combined experience in the prepared food industry and for many years has been a supplier to militaries, international organizations, governments, and institutions around the world. XMRE solutions are designed to serve both military demand and the increased demand from the civilian marketplace that ranges from preparedness, rescue, disaster relief, camping, fitness, hunting, and other outdoor sports.

Pros: One of the highest calorie count out of all the civilian MREs – almost as much as a regular military MRE. Good combination of main entrees and sides, good variety of peanut butter/cheese spread. FRH is activated with regular water. Coffee and creamer in every MRE. Multiple calories count options available.

Cons: Limited dealers available.

Related Articles

0 comments… add one

What Say You?