Meals rejected by everyone

by Darren Blair

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Contrary to popular belief, the type of US military ration known as the “MRE” (“Meal, Ready to Eat”) does in fact go bad in time, especially with improper storage. 
It’s pretty common for MREs, particularly surplus ones, to become available to civilian buyers, who set them aside as food storage for emergencies. What isn’t common, however, is for people to keep an eye on how old they are or how well they’re being stored. MREs, in concept, can last a decade or more. But individual components can go bad much sooner, especially if stored improperly, such as under circumstances that are too hot.
We encountered this the hard way when my mom found a trio of MREs in a kitchen cabinet while sorting through the food storage. As they didn’t have a traditional date stamp, she was confused about how old they were and asked me to try and check on them. Sure enough, I found the site above. It took a few tries to find it, but I read the codes on the packages and ran them through the checker. 
All three, it said, were packed between November 17th and November 18th, 2018. 
Now, MREs can last a decade if stored properly, so we left the matter to my dad, who is retired Army, to decide whether or not we wanted to give them a chance. He decided to go ahead and open them up so we could inspect the individual contents. It was immediately apparent that the bottles of Tabasco © sauce inside the rations were bad, as they’d turned. The gum in two of the three rations were also discarded off-hand due to the fact that the pieces were visibly busted up. A package of pears was also tossed, sight unseen, because the physical consistency was off. 
That left me to date everything else. 
We couldn’t find any sort of code on the pack of Skittles © inside one of the rations, but it’s likely we didn’t look hard enough. Everything else? The individual components themselves were packed between May and November of 2008. That’s at the edge of it, and with other components already having failed, it was a fine line to walk. 
Yes, I ate some of the Skittles ©. 
There were jokes about some of the menu options and choices. Chili and peanut butter in the same ration? Poppy seed cake despite the manufacturer knowing military service members are drug-tested? How much wheat bread was in that vegetarian lasagna ration?
But this was food safety, and food safety is lethally serious. The Skittles ©? Tasted fine to me, but mom had one and, based on the taste, threw the rest away. Most of the main courses and side dishes were also discarded as a precaution. The bread, the spreads, most of the accessories (spoons, heaters, paper products), and a few other things were kept, some for further inspection later. Based on the tags, we only paid $2 apiece at some sort of garage sale for them, so we ourselves weren’t out a lot of money. 
But yeah folks – if you keep food storage, check it regularly. Familiarize yourself with the date codes used by different manufacturers for different products. Learn about how to properly store products, and what to look for to see if something’s gone bad. And of course, plan on rotating it in and out to minimize spoilage and actually use what you paid for.

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