By Mark Kaz
For most people, picking and choosing meals is easy. They may have packed a freezer with everything from alphabet soup to zucchini. While daily life usually doesn’t bear the reality of it all being changed any time soon, that mindset is sure to be wrong sooner than later. When the change does come, many people just didn’t prepare.
As a survivalist one question I’m asked most is what the best food prep is and why. For someone who’s just starting out on the preparedness and survival journey they may not realize the important differences between the many prep foods that are available. It’s kind of like shopping for a car, they all do the same thing well, and it’s more of a personal preference. Yet there are differences between them and each has their own set of pro’s and con’s.
In this article I’m going to give you my insight on food preps and why I chose the one I did for my bug out bag. The three main meals you’ll find on the market today are MRE’s which is short for “Meals Ready to Eat”, freeze dried foods and dehydrated foods. Many people use the term MRE when talking about food preps and that in itself is a mistake. MRE’s are MRE’s and that’s it; while some people generalize the term. The mechanically dried foods differ dramatically to MRE’s and should not be confused when generalizing about survival prep foods.
When in a crisis situation clean healthy water is of the utmost importance. Most often in these situations water, whether it is from a lake or river can become contaminated. With hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, water sources were devastated by disease and petroleum products in some areas. The oils cannot be easily removed with just a survival filter. Most filters aren’t made to do such a task and during disasters healthy water can be in short supply. Humans cannot go without water for longer than 3 days and water will be at a premium during these trying times.
It’s here where MRE’s have the clear advantage to both freeze dried and dehydrated foods. A MRE is real food, ready to eat, it’s that simple. You can open a MRE, scoop it into a canteen cup or small pot, and then warm it up over a fire or flame, without water. Both freeze dried and dehydrated foods need water to reconstitute their product; water must be used in the meal. The criticalness of this forces you to choose to eat or drink but not both, if water is limited.
Another advantage that MRE’s have is that you can also boil the pouch in water, in your canteen cup or small pot. Thus provides two processes at the same time. If you’re near water source that needs to be decontaminated of harmful bacteria and protozoa you can boil the MRE pouch together with the water. Then after eating your meal the water will have cooled and will be safe for you to drink.
SHELFLIFE AND STOREAGE
The ability to store food for a long duration is a key component to surviving a crisis. One of the best ways to keep your storage fresh is by eating occasional food preps if they’re not in a sealed long term container. Individual packages have a bit shorter shelf life than those in a factory sealed canister. Also make sure you rotate your food stock to help with stability.
The stigmatism that comes with MRE’s is they only have a 5 year optimum shelf life. The fact that they are real food concerns some people about their longevity. To obtain shelf life it’s recommended to store the food at 50 degrees or cooler. However, MRE’s do last longer than 5 years if kept in a dark, cool place and retain almost all of their nutritional value. I eat these meals at home and they have been a prep food staple at my survival camp since 2009. The meals I purchased in 2009 taste equally as good as the fresh ones I buy now.
Freeze dried and dehydrated prep meals have a longer shelf life. Wise Company individual pouch guidelines suggest a 7 year shelf life when stored at 55 degrees. They maintain their foods will last up to 25 years when properly sealed and contained. Oregon Freeze Dry Inc. maker of Mountain House, their pouches have a 12 year shelf life and with proper storage and containment last between 25 and 30 years. They also offer Pro-Paks that are vacuum packed and prevent expansion at high altitudes. Their Ice crème products only have a 2 year shelf life and claim all their products can store well at temperatures up to 73 degrees.
Saratoga Farms offers both freeze dried and dehydrated food products. There is a difference between the 2 processes and how they affect the final meal. Dehydrated foods tend to have a shorter shelf life with some fruits and vegetables lasting 15 – 20 years when properly stored. While other fruits, vegetables and meal products suggest 25 – 30 year shelf life. The nutritional values are generally reduced by the dehydration process and some cooking of these meals may also be necessary. The temperature range for storage is 60 degrees or lower and be sure to follow their guidelines to maximize shelf life.
YOUR BUG OUT BAG
When you are packing your bug out bag the old saying is true, ounces equals pounds and pounds equals pain. The best idea is to find resources that answer that equation and usually it’s finding gear that does several things well. The same can be said for food preps and one has to remember that bugging out is about bare essentials, living lean and efficient. This also means with meals too, it must be easy to heat and eat.
Are MRE packs are more than just a main course meal, yes. The pack comes with the main meal but also includes 2 or 3 snacks, a couple powder drink options including coffee and a small pack of condiments. The average weight of a MRE pack is 1.5 lbs. for all the items mentioned and you can purchase some pack items individually. Freeze dried and dehydrated packs are considerably lighter than MRE’s, however, you can’t find a freeze dried product that converts all that food and drink into one pack.
For me MRE’s are the answer and for a few good reasons. First is water; MRE main meals don’t require water to reconstitute the main food product. This allows important options when clean water is scarce. Secondly is time; MRE’s are quicker to heat because there is no mixing of food contents. Third is convenience; I know when I grab a MRE pack it’s a good portion of food and 2 packs feed me for the day. Lastly, you should eat a prep meal at least once a month. This keeps your body use to the product and there won’t be any bodily function disruptions during the onset of a crisis.