Things you didn't know about Meals Ready to Eat

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Rich Curry
  • 507th Air Refueling Wing
Ah, the unsung, lowly MRE. 

It's so much more than daily sustenance: the myths and facts of our meals ready to eat are woven into the very fabric of our military way of life. 

Here are a few bits of information about MREs you probably don't know.

By Any Other Name:

Introduced in the military in the 1980s to replace C-rations, some of the early MRE meals were not very palatable. Some of the most notable of these received nicknames names like "Mr. E" (mystery), "Meals Rejected by Everyone", "Meals, Rarely Edible", "Meals Rejected by the Enemy", and even "Meals Rejected by Ethiopians." Some individual meals received their own personal nicknames. For example, the frankfurters, which came sealed in pouches of four, were referred to as "the four fingers of death."

While MRE quality has greatly improved over the years, many of the early nicknames still stick. MREs are often called "Three Lies for the Price of One" - it's not a Meal, it's not Ready, and you can't Eat it. It is rumored they were originally to be called MNR for "Meals....No, Really!!!

Here's a few trivia MRE bits of information you may not realize: 

It's more than just Hot and Spicy: 

· Since 1993, an individual jar of Tabasco sauce has been included in each MRE.
· Cayenne is a main ingredient in Tabasco. The capsaicin in cayenne blocks a chemical involved in the nerve transmission of pain.
· Cayenne is also rich in salicylates, natural aspirin-like compounds. Have a headache and no aspirin? Massage a balm containing Tabasco into your temples.
· Your Tabasco sauce may be used as a gargle for sore throats. The most amazing and effective treatment is using 10-20 drops of Tabasco sauce in a glass of warm water.
· Your Tabasco sauce may be used to prepare a liniment for sore muscles. Capsaicin can dramatically reduce chronic nerve pain. Studies have proven its usefulness for arthritis, shingles, trigeminal neuralgia, and diabetic neuropathy. It appears to act by decreasing the concentration of the primary chemical used by nerve cells to transmit pain signals. Several weeks of regular use may be required to achieve this effect.
· CAUTION: Cayenne pepper is a natural blood thinner. Do not take it before surgery or dental treatment!
· In a bare base situation with minimal civil engineer support, your Tabasco sauce may be used to create a home-made insect repellent to keep pests out of your tent. 

Other MRE Trivia: 

· The thermal process used to create an MRE can be likened to canning in a pouch. It protects entrees and fruits, Exposing the cooked meal to high heat and pressure kills any microorganisms that cause mold and spoiling.
· Oxygen and moisture are two primary factors in food spoilage. Protecting the meals from oxygen and moisture, the tri-laminate foil packaging is the secret to the MRE's shelf-life.
· Use a pinch of instant tea from your MRE and apply it to your gums to help eliminate canker sores.
· MREs have approximately 1300 calories per meal with 55% of the energy from carbohydrates, 35% from fat and 15% from protein.
· Packaging requirements are strict. MREs are designed to withstand parachute drops from 1,250 feet and non-parachute drops of 100 feet.
· Each MRE weighs 380 to 510 g (13 to 18 oz) depending on the menu.
· You can tell MREs were designed by the Army. They include a pack of matches. Maybe they figured that would make them a little lighter...
· The Flameless Ration Heater (FRH) was also added to the MRE in 1993. It lets soldiers heat their meals in the field. When soldiers add one ounce of water there is a reaction with the magnesium iron compound causing the water to boil. The FRH will heat the entree of an MRE by raising the temperature of the 8-ounce entree by 100 F in 12 minutes. The heating process produces no toxic chemical byproducts.
· FRH MRE heaters are approximately the shape and size of a playing card, weigh less than one ounce, and are easy to store, and have a 5 year shelf-life.
· FRHs are made from powdered food grade iron, magnesium, and salt, all biodegradable materials. Spent heater pads contain no toxic materials, and are easily disposed in the trash...just drain the water off first.
· Chemicals and preservatives are not used to extend the shelf life of the MRE
· Offering soldiers a taste of home, commercial items such as M&Ms and granola bars have been incorporated into the MRE. Ethnic foods and vegetarian meals have also become more popular.
· MRE menus are designed using feedback from soldiers in field. Surveys are conducted several times each year. As a result of customer feedback, over 50 new items have been included and approximately 12 items have been discontinued since 1993. Today there will be 24 menus available.
· MREs meet the military recommended daily allowance (RDA) guidelines established by the surgeon general. Developed for a healthy and extremely active population, the military RDA is higher in calories and protein requirements.
· Given average conditions, a package of Hostess Twinkies can survive in its cellophane wrapping without appreciable loss of flavor or freshness for up to 25 days. MREs are shelf stable for a minimum of 3 years at 80oF (26oC) and a minimum of 6 months at 100oF (38oC). Twinkies are reputedly a great deal more appetizing.

MREs receive makeover 

Beginning this year, Meals Ready to Eat will be sporting a new package design.
MREs (Meals, Ready-to-Eat) were first introduced for use in the US military in 1981. 

Since then, the original simple brown MRE bag has undergone two major and several minor updates. The first major update occurred in 1996 and changed the color of the bag from dark brown to a tan color and introduced new bag graphics. 

In 2006, the US Army Natick Soldier RD&E Center began evaluating new graphic designs for the MRE bags. They started off with 18 new designs and weeded that list down to 9 designs. Further review brought the list down to 5 designs. Those designs were then "field tested" with soldiers to see which ones they preferred. 

Each year, the Defense Supply Center, Philadelphia (DSCP) publishes a new set of specifications for the production and packaging of MREs. These specs are called "Assembly Contract Requirements" or ACRs. Inside each ACR is a design of how the MRE bag is supposed to look. While color codes and spacing are specified, exact fonts to be used are not. 

The three best graphic designs were finally approved and specified in the 2008 ACR for future MRE bags. Each design will be used to showcase several offerings in the 24 meal series. Design #1 will be used on menus 1-4 and 13-16. Design #2 will be used on menus 5-8 and 17-20. Design #3 will be used for menus 9-12, 21-24.

Previous changes to MRE bag design include:
1981 - Original MRE bag introduced
1988 - Large menu numbers added to the sides of the MRE bags
1995 - Last year the dark brown MRE bags used
1996 - New tan bags, fonts, and graphics introduced
2001 - Two notices added to the bags: "U.S. Government Property" and "Commercial Resale Is Unlawful"
2003 - New notice added to the bags: "Flameless Ration Heaters Are Prohibited On Commercial Airlines Unless Sealed In Original MRE Menu Bag"
2007 - Last year for the old graphics
2008 - Three new graphic designs introduced for MRE bags. Bag color remains tan.