MREs: This May Be A Little Hard To Digest…


The concept of a meal in a pouch is not new.

For years, military organizations have contracted to have “Meals Ready to Eat” (or MREs) made for distribution to hungry soldiers in the field when a mess kitchen was unavailable.

The evolution of military-grade MREs from the 1960’s era to now has resulted in light-weight pouches that contain a complete meal sealed into a tidy packet.

A typical MRE contains a main course, a side dish, bread, dessert, and a flameless ration heater.  There will also be a napkin, eating utensils, and condiments such as salt and pepper.

True U.S. military MREs are well marked with the designation “U.S. Government Property; Commercial Resale is Unlawful,” although this is a misnomer since there are no laws that forbid the resale of MREs.


The components of one of the MREs used for this article

That said, the companies that produce military MREs market similar MREs to civilians, often in cases of 12 units but also as individual packets.

In addition, it is not unusual for companies such as Mountain House, Wise, Thrive Life, and others to refer to their meal-sized food pouches as MREs.  Alas, this confuses the consumer since these pouches of food are not anything like the military MREs.

Instead, these pouches represent a standalone entrée, side dish, or dessert suitable for one, two, or more people.  Examples include chili, beef stroganoff, chicken alfredo, and similar dishes that require the addition of very hot or boiling water before they can be consumed.


Last January, I was contacted by the Meal Kit Supply company and was offered a case of their MREs for testing and review purposes.  I accepted with the usual caveat that I would post an honest and truthful review.


The box of MREs arrived a few weeks later and thus began the disgusting discovery that these meals were not only expensive, but laden with chemicals and unhealthy ingredients.

Not only that, the flameless heater did not work worth a darn, and the so-called “meal ready to eat” had to be heated in a pot of boiling water on the stove.  The portions were tiny when compared, for example, to the Food Insurance or Mountain House pouches and the company, well, more about that later.

MREs (22) MREs_3  MREs_4

I realized at this point that my opinion was not going to stand up on its own.  After all, the reviews I read on the company website and from other bloggers (who, by the way, were offered the same products for review) were all quite favorable.

I decided to call in some help by offering a few packets to my friend, Bruce Conway, who is a long-time outdoor enthusiast and prepper.


When Gaye Levy, noted survival and preparedness writer, asked me to evaluate a couple of MRE meals (meals ready-to-eat) that had been given to her by for evaluation, I eagerly agreed. I had been interested in trying MREs for years but had not gotten around to trying or buying them.

In the past, I had good camping experiences with MountainHouse™ freeze-dried meals and had been assured that modern MREs were now even better.

MRE’s, I was told, had been improving steadily over the years in both quality and variety. So, I could be reasonably assured that these MREs would prove to be preferred forms of preparedness meals to flesh out my personal bug-out cache.

Unfortunately, my first experience with an MRE was not a good one.

Gaye provided me with two of the MRE packets for review. One was Chili with beans, and the other was Chicken Fajitas. Both sounded good.

The MREs were made/distributed by one of the largest MRE manufacturers in the world; Meal Kit, which proclaims their products to be “the gold standard” in the meals ready-to-eat industry. These are identical to the MREs supplied to the military of both Canada and the U.S.

As I pulled open the MRE bag and spilled the contents onto the table, I was at first impressed with the quantity of the sealed meal packs and extras in the bag which included a nonflammable meal pouch heater, beverages, dessert (pound cake), a moist towelette, plastic ware and condiments. It was like Christmas—military style, with an excessive amount of brown packaging.

When I trimmed the top of the flameless ration heater and poured the required two ounces of water into the bag to activate the heater, the reaction was instantaneous.

It inflated the bag (which I had successfully wrapped quickly around two sealed entree pouches.) The steam scalded my hand and caused mild asthma-like symptoms which lasted for about fifteen minutes.

The instructions caution using the ration heater with “adequate” ventilation, advising consumers to make the meal outdoors. The heaters are considered “safe to use, except when aboard aircraft.  To quote, “… the release of hydrogen gas from these flameless ration heaters is of a sufficient quantity to pose a potential hazard on board a passenger aircraft.”

O.K. I am now less than impressed, Strike one; toxic outgassing—hot steam and hydrogen. Strike two; an unbelievable amount of packaging and plastic trash.

The slim advantage of MRE “pros” versus “cons” was narrowing rapidly.

Then I ate the chicken fajitas. It was, at best, O.K. The Fajita meat and sauce were poured on top of the hot rice packet, with a couple of passable vacuum-packed flour tortillas. The rice heated unevenly, so some was underdone and hard. There are likely tricks to preparing these that I am unaware of.

Within 1/2 hour gastric distress began. My face got hot and flushed, stomach began twisting in knots. I didn’t get sick, exactly. It was some kind of toxic reaction.

Within an hour or so I knew that I had consumed a large dose of MSG. A similar thing happened a year earlier when a manufacturer began adding MSG to a formerly MSG-free product.

I kept eating it for several months until symptoms similar to what the MRE caused showed up. I eventually re-read the product label and discovered the switch to MSG, and never ate that product again.

It turns out that most MREs are loaded with MSG (which has been linked to numerous diseases and conditions, in addition to being addictive), preservatives, artificial sweeteners, dyes, fillers, etc.

As these MREs are from Canada, and contain levels of MSG far beyond EPA suggestions, I suspect that some of these ingredients are actually manufactured in China, and only distributed by Meal Kit Supply. This is ONLY a suspicion on my part, and not backed up by evidence. But they “taste” like they are made in China.

It took a full week for my body to purge the MSG. During that time it ravaged my digestive tract, requiring probiotics, hot cereal, yogurt, and detoxification with lots of fluids. The excessive amount of MSG even anesthetized my urinary tract, which was numb for several days.

When Gaye wrote the manufacturer about my experience, they responded thus:

“As sorry as I am to hear you were ill, I don’t think our MREs were the cause: we have no preservatives or mystery chemicals in our product, and have never had issues with people getting sick after their consumption (they feed the troops after all — the government would throw a fit if their soldiers were getting sick!).

Anyways, as it has already been 4 months and we continue to hit road bumps, it might be best to call off the review altogether.”

To think that soldiers in the military are required to eat these day after day is mind-boggling. Most MRE reviews say that although tasty, MREs plug up the average digestive tract in a week or two. Most eaters report distress after two to three days of MRE’s.

“Gulf War veterans are twice as likely to develop A.L.S. than those who did not serve.  These vets were all exposed to MSG by way of their MREs, or Meals-Ready-To-Eat.  The U.S. military has been adding MSG to MREs on purpose to make army rations more palatable.  MREs were actually required to contain a minimum amount of MSG up until very recently.

We have gotten new reports that fortunately, they are no longer using MSG in MREs. The intake of MSG by GIs in Iraq in particular, was compounded by the fact that diet drinks containing aspartame were also supplied to the troops – at the same time.  MSG and aspartame are more harmful together as research has shown (See Related Research).” – ( MSG, A.L.S., and Gulf War Vets).

I would think that those relying on MREs during a disaster, or other large emergency, require food that is safe, nutritious and delicious. MRE meals from Meal Kit Supply may be edible, but they fall short in other regards: They are neither safe nor delicious. They are full of MSG and artificial sweeteners. They even loaded up the plain rice packet with MSG. Why would ordinary rice require MSG?

Get a clue Meal Kit Supply. Loading up your products with MSG and Aspartame may be legal, but it is highly unethical, as these chemicals used together contribute to many diseases and conditions. Get rid of them, and you will once again have a product to be proud of. Your competitors such as Mountain House, and Alpine Aire Foods are MSG free. Your products would be much improved by following their example.

To further investigate the hazards of the long-term consumption of MRE’s, go to:


This article will not win any popularity contests with MRE distributors.  But it represents the truth as I see it and for that I will not apologize.  When I contacted Meal Kit Supply about the results of my testing, they asked me to call off the review but they did not scare me off.

As Bruce said to me, this is a story that needs to be told.

Click here to view the original article on

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Editor's Note: This article was originally published on June 17, 2013, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

20 Responses to :
MREs: This May Be A Little Hard To Digest…

  1. John says:

    Thanks for the straight skinny on these things
    and not bending to the establishment of political praise on a non-deserving product

  2. Farmist says:

    FYI, the word you’re looking for is TRACT, not track…digestive tract, urinary tract.

  3. Dave B says:

    My understanding of MRE’s is that they are “field meals”, and only a substitute for meals served in mess halls. As such, many troops, even deployed overseas, never have the “pleasure” of eating MRE’s.

    My military experience was during the c and k ration era. I actually found most of them to be enjoyable but then again, by the time we got a chance to prpare and eat them, we were pretty hungry.

    Now I have never eaten and MRE, but some of my associates have and said they preferred the old rations albeit they weigh considerably more due to their packaging (mostly small cans).

    Additionally, for survival food, MRE’s are a very poor choice. They are designed for replacing very high caloric deficits of active troops. In a true survival situation, one should be conserving calories not burning them in marches, scrambles, and firefights.

    One last comment on MRE’s is that they require plenty of fluid (water) to digest. In a military setting, water is a high priority staple and generally made readily available. In a survival situation such as a natural disaster, water will be a scarce and precious resource.

    Just some thoughts from the field…

    1. Gary says:

      Dave just a thought. You stated that, quote: “In a true survival situation, one should be conserving calories not burning them in marches, scrambles, and firefights.” I disagree. You may not be in a firefight but in a survival situation you might be walking long distances, digging survivors out of collapsed and damaged buildings, or building shelters. You certainly will need and increase of calories during survival situations.

  4. Gary says:

    Might I suggest trying some of the other manufacturers as they may be more palatable for you. I have eaten MRE’s purchased from an army surplus store and found them to be decent with a couple being quite good. Are they more expensive than other types of survival food? Yes but they do have the distinction of truly being ready to eat with little or no preparation.

  5. GoneWithTheWind says:

    MSG & aspartame !! Really. Gulf War syndrome has been investigated upside down and inside out and nothing can be found to support it. It has more to do with money/disability claims then any real illness. Unless you have a real and not imagined allergy to MSG or aspartame they won’t hurt you any more then peanut butter will.

    1. Chuck says:

      There are no doubt some malingerers who claim “Gulf War Syndrome”, however some of the veterans from the first Iraqi misadventure are not the sort of one ordinarily associates with malingering. For example, one is a U.S. Marine Corps colonel with over twenty years service who, before he fell ill was on track to get a star. Not the typical profile of someone who is falsely claiming disability. His illness prevented his promotion. Just one example, but when I read about his case, I changed my opinion about “Gulf War Syndrome” being a simple ticket to a disability claim.

      1. GoneWithTheWind says:

        But!! What does he have? He may well be ill, but that does not mean the dreaded “Gulf War Syndrome”. Here is the problem: There is no identifiable injury, virus, germ or parasite. Do you really think it is something totally new? Second problem is everyone’s “Gulf War Syndrome” is different, different symptoms, different assignments, etc. and still no injury, virus, germ or parasite. It is more consistent with something mad up or the result of mass hysteria. There is no such thing as “Gulf War Syndrome”.

  6. Chuck says:

    There is a reason why the marines called them “Meals Rejected by Everyone.” I was in during the C-ration era, so my experience was with “C-rats” It was actually cheaper to feed troops fresh food than it was to feed them C-rats. Everyone knew C-rats made you constipated. You were not getting any fresh fruit or vegetables to keep you regular. A steady meat diet will make one constipated. If it is 20° below zero, and you must perform all bodily functions outside, being constipated is preferable to having diarrhea. I have read that many German troops died from have frostbite of the rectum during the retreat from Russia because they suffered from diarrhea and were unable or unwilling to drop their pants to relieve themselves and the most matter froze in their trousers and led to death. Unfortunately, in combat in the field it sometimes is necessary to subsist on C-rats/MREs for longer periods than they were intended to be used. Just be thankful that the K-rats are no longer available. They were truly vile.

  7. Linda says:

    These are meant for temporary subsistence. Several years ago, the military extracted troops for rotation who were in remote places in the middle east on patrol. These guys had lost inordinate amounts of body weight. This proves one thing to me, the unavailability of food other than MREs was detremental to health for long periods.

  8. Chuck says:

    That should be “moist matter”.

  9. John says:

    I was in the U.S. Army from 1976-79 and then from 1982-1993. I started with the C-rations and didnt mind them. And when they came out with MRE’s a lot of service members welcomed them. We all had preferences, and there were a few the majority hated. Some items were automatically thrown out. We improvised most of the time adding and substituting ingredients. A lot of pepper & hot sauce was used. LOL Personally I didnt use much salt they all tasted salty enough already. As a MP I didnt experience a “Field” environment as much as as a infantryman or others like them. But didnt my share of it. Including 8 months in Saudi & Iraq in the first war there. I never really minded MRE’s, but did get tired of them. WE (as MP’s) were more lucky to be near a “regular” meal than many others. With your article and the reviews Im wondering how much MRE’s have changed meaning both ingredients and chemicals since my days in the Military. Ive read enough now though to know I dont want them when the SHTF. Thanks for the honest review. 🙂

  10. Miles says:

    I spent 41 years (active and reserve) in the USMC from ’65 70 ’06 and had extensive experience with C-rations and several generations of MREs. While not like home cooked food, I found then all “eatable”. Some were better than others, of course, but I never had the experience written about here. If you want to try another manufacturer, look for Surepak or SOPAKCO (same company, different brand names) they make U.S. military MREs and can be found on, among other places.

  11. Allen says:

    I was in the Army Infabtry for 20+ years and ate MREs the entire time deployed to OIF and often daily for months at a time even in field training before 9/11 in the states and overseas. I would get nauseous just looking at an MRE.

    Those MREs in the article look different than genuine military ones. The genuine military MREs have pretty large portions for the entrees at least. The good thing about MREs is that they are complete meals containing; coffee, beverage powders, candy, gum, hot sauce, TP, matches and now ration heaters. The bad things massive amounts of sodium. I was not aware of the MSG but it does not surprise me. They are designed for soldiers working or training hard and have a lot of calories. They create a lot of garbage. The note in the article about MREs causing constipation is at least somewhat true. Often when we had only MREs, water was scarce as well which contributes much to that problem. They have their place but in addition to these problems they are bulky and expensive. They last quite awhile but not near as long as freeze dried.

  12. Raymond Andrews says:

    How many MRE trials did you conduct with how many of the different varieties? I was in the Army for 21 years and had plenty of opportunities to eat MREs. The ones that are now being served are pretty good compared to the ones I had when I went through basic Training in 1985. You should have been around back then and tried the dehydrated beef or pork patties. Then you could talk about “gastric distress”. In every unit I have been in, there have been meals that were fought over and those that were avoided like the plague. Your limited exposure does not give you an adequate picture or much credibility to your opinion. I do not now nor have I ever worked for anyone who produced MREs. I’m just a retired Soldier who thinks the opinions of military personnel would be more credible. I even used to to take MREs home when the unit was trying to ge rid of the extras. The kids really loved them too.

  13. wade says:

    For some one that is supposed to be an out doorsman….you certainly have a weak stomach and appear to be awefull picky. If you are a survivalist….good luck with that.

    These MRE, they are not intended to be a gourmet meal. They are a high protien diet to sustain you in times where it is not possible to eat a normal meal. The protien allows you to obtain high levels of energy for performance purposes. They are also loaded with preservatives, thus long shelf and ability to keep at extreme tempature.

    I have eaten these things for years, they are not great, though not bad. They serve a purpose and thats it.

    It always amazes me to hear about so called “survivalsts”. Most that claim to be would be lucky to make it a week out there.

    In the first place a true survivalist may keep a couple of these laying around as emergency backup, if at all.

    You should be able to find things in your area to sustain yourself….but if it take 2 weeks to purge an MRE, then god be with you if you have to do any real survival.

  14. Billy says:

    I served from Oct85-Oct88 I was stationed at Ft. Stewart GA when it was the 24th ID mechanized I was a heavy wheeled vehicle mechanic attached to the 3/69 Armor Battalion we spent between 6 and 9 months a year in the field I ate MRE’s twice a day with one hot meal a day some were awful and a few very few were fair unless im starving to death ill never eat another MRE for the rest of my life

  15. John says:

    C-rat’s, MRE’s, LRRP’s, it doesn’t matter. The one thing to remember is they are meant to give energy & sustainment. The old adage of “Eat to live, not live to eat.” comes to mind. I spent too many years eating the above meals. They will, over a short period of time “bind you up”. By the way, I found LRRP’s to be delicious!. Try making your own MRE’s, it isn’t that difficult and you can add what you want.

  16. Nu says:

    MREs DO NOT contain MSG or aspartame.

    But having had those tortillas myself, let me tell you. They are probably what made you feel like that. I get the same problem with the wheat snack bread and the tortillas. Since I know it, I avoid eating them when I get MRE’s, and when possible, I trade others who like the soft breads for things like the crackers or snack cakes.

    Also the comparison to MREs is unfair. Unlike freeze-dried meals (or other shelf stable meals), MREs are designed to be eaten no longer than 2 weeks. (Not only that, they are designed to be eaten while drinking a lot of water.) They are NOT a replacer for regular food indefinitely.

    If we have to compare two different things, here’s what is actually worth comparing:

    In terms of calories and fats, MREs are superior to Mountain House/freeze dried meals. In terms of weight, MREs are inferior. In terms of cooking, they require none. The heaters are just an extra. If you are not accustomed to eating this type of food, it probably will indeed cause you some gastric distress and constipation.

    Also, the so-called “winter MREs” are gross. Just saying. Still a proponent of MREs, though. I like the Cheese Tortellini and Beef Stew ones a lot. When you’re hungry and can’t cook, they are worth gold. It sounds a little like you got in a pissing match with the customer service representative and are taking it out on your readers.

    Aka me. 🙁

    Maybe spend more time talking about the product and the specifics of what was bad and how come, less time talking about how they can’t stop you from giving a bad review. Come on. I clicked because it looked like this article was going to talk about the history of MREs, which would have been cool.

  17. Jameson says:

    I bought a few cases of military mre’s… After eating them for a day or two. I went overboard eating 6 entries, 4 cheese spreads, and a few of the other things. Now my stomach feels likes its on fire…I puked up blood, I dont know if its a ulcer or gastritis but I’m in a lot of pain… Calculated the sodium intake from all of this is like 8 grams sodium, and the ingredients are a lot of dyes and preservatives. Horrible experience feeling like I have stomach cancer.

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