fuel] [Product requirements] [MRE
[Fox hole to grocery store] [Changing
If you cooked a meal,
stored it in a stifling hot warehouse, dropped it out of an airplane,
dragged it through the mud, left it out with bugs and vermin, and ate
it three years later, nothing would happen-if it were an MRE.
The Meal, Ready-to-Eat
(MRE) has evolved over years of intense research and product
development to be what's considered the finest operational ration in
the world today. It has helped make the U.S. military the best-fed
fighting force in the world.
The MRE, which replaced
the canned Meal, Combat Individual (C Ration)
in the early 1980s, is the current standard individual military
The MRE is a totally
self-contained, flexibly-packaged meal used by U.S. soldiers and
Marines in the field. It is used by the services to sustain
individuals during operations that prevent organized food service
facilities but where resupply is established or planned.
requirements demand ration systems that adequately provide for the
needs of the individuals in extremely intense and highly mobile combat
situations. The MRE answers that demand as no other ration in history.
The logistical task of
providing subsistence for military personnel has been critical
throughout history. Frederick the Great of Prussia is credited with
having defined an army as a group of men who demand daily feeding.
Military rations are no
less important today. In fact, the importance of sound nutrition to
the performance of modern military personnel may be even more critical
than in the past. Food fuels the fighter, and inadequate fuel for
fighters will bring the military machine to a grinding halt.
The U.S. Army Soldier
and Biological Chemical Command's Soldier Systems Center (SSC) at
Natick, Mass., is home to the Department of Defense (DoD) Combat
Feeding Program, which is responsible for the design, development and
testing of all military rations for the Armed Forces.
The Combat Feeding
Program encompasses the design, development and evaluation of new and
improved operational rations, packaging, food service equipment and
Meal, Ready-to-Eat provides troops in the field with a
complete, nutritious meal that can withstand extreme
Natick manages the
research, development and engineering, which provides the science and
technology base and the engineering support to satisfy the unique
feeding requirements of each military service critical for operational
A joint technical
staff, composed of representatives from each of the four services,
functions as the primary interface between Natick and the services in
preparation and execution of a prioritized and integrated research,
development, and engineering program.
and considerations must be addressed if an acceptable ration product
is to be provided to American military personnel.
constraints include nutrition, personnel acceptance, wholesomeness,
producibility, cost, shelf life, self-heating capability, modularity,
weight, volume, ease of sanitation, menu fatigue and performance
include convenience items along with a variety of
commercially-available drink mixes and snack foods.
In addition, MRE
packaging must meet stringent durability requirements to include
airdrop, rough handling and brutal temperature extremes.
development breakthroughs have made it possible for MREs to be
lightweight, compact, easily opened, withstand a parachute drop from
1,250 feet or from a helicopter at 100 feet with no parachute, endure
inclement weather and survive temperature extremes from minus 60
degrees Fahrenheit to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
They must have a
minimum shelf life of three years at 80 F and last for six months at
100 F, be highly acceptable and meet the Office of the Surgeon
General's nutritional requirements as identified in Army Regulation
4025, Nutritional Standards for Operational Rations.
|MRE pouches are
made out of several layers of material and are like a flexible
can. They have better storage and distribution qualities than
a can, without the weight or need for a can opener.
Each meal contains
approximately 1,200 calories and includes an entrée or starch;
crackers; a cheese, peanut butter or jelly spread; a dessert or snack;
beverages; an accessory packet; a plastic spoon and a flameless ration
heater (FRH). The FRH is a water-activated exothermic chemical heater
designed to heat the entree of an MRE by raising the temperature of
the 8-ounce entree by 100 F in 12 minutes.
The FRH has proven to
be an effective method for the individual soldier to obtain a hot meal
on demand in the field. Since assembly of MRE XIII, one FRH has been
included in each MRE meal bag. The MRE flexibly packaged foods are
heat-processed in retortable pouches. Retort describes a
thermostabilization process much like canning. The pouch is made out
of several layers and is like a flexible can but has better storage
and distribution qualities than a can, without the weight or need for
The pouch is filled
with the food and then sterilized in large pressure-cooker-like
equipment. This process gives the product a long shelf life and helps
retain natural juices and flavors for greater acceptability.
The number of menus
increased incrementally from 12 to 24. Four vegetarian meals are now
included (two in each case), a new easy-open meal bag with
commercial-like colors and graphics have been added, nutritional
labeling implemented and application of Time Temperature Indicator (TTI)
labels included on MRE ration cases. TTIs will facilitate rapid and
effective quality monitoring and stock management of pre-positioned
to grocery store
Many of the products
and packaging innovations and developments during the past 40 years,
which we take for granted yet appear on our grocery store shelves,
have their roots in military ration research. Many new technologies
and items were developed during this period to meet changing military
feeding situations and to accommodate the increasing demand for
mobility and dispersion of combat forces. Products created by
military-sponsored research have traveled from the foxhole to the
grocery store and your kitchen table.
Some of these
technology "spin-off" items used extensively by the
commercial food industry for public benefit include freeze dehydrated
meats, processed cheese, dehydrated egg and milk products, edible
coatings, dry soup and similar mixes, converted rice, restructured
meats, frozen entrees, freeze dried foods and coffee, dry beverage
mixes and shelf stable bakery products.
Under the auspices of
the Combat Feeding Program, research and development efforts since
Operation Desert Storm have implemented significant customer-driven
improvements to the MRE.
include expanding variety and improving acceptability, consumption and
nutritional intake to enhance performance on the battlefield while
minimizing weight and volume. All changes to the MRE menu undergo a
battery of laboratory tests, and sensory and operational evaluation
with units in the field. This direct feedback is used to improve and
upgrade the fielded systems and to increase functionality, utility,
acceptability and performance.
HOOAH! bar is a nutrition-dense energy snack. The ingredients
are similar to those found in commercially-sold energy bars.
The results of user
suggestions and field evaluation drive the changes to the MRE. These
rapidly-fielded, customer-focused improvements are possible through
the effective use of the Combat Ration Integrated Product Team (CR-IPT),
whose key members include the customer, combat developer, vendors,
materiel developer and procurement agency.
Since 1993, more than
80 new items, 70 percent of which are non-developmental commercial
items, were approved for the MRE, while 16 items were replaced.
Many new MRE component
items were recently approved by the Joint Service Operational Ration
Forum Integrated Process Team for inclusion in MRE XXI.
New entrée items
developed at Natick and recommended and approved for MRE XXI
production include jambalaya and enchilada. In addition, several new
entrées were approved to be used as needed, including chicken nuggets
with cavetelli, mesquite chicken breast and beef steak with mushroom
gravy. Additional approved items include wheat snack bread, plain
snack, mashed potatoes added as a starch in applicable menus, spice
pound cake, peanut butter cookies, pretzels filled with nacho cheese
and cheddar cheese, chocolate chip cookies and snack cereals.
These items may be
added during menu planning at the discretion of Combat Feeding Program
Finally, a new
light-green camouflage color was approved for the MRE retort pouch,
which provides a readily producible product with increased camouflage
properties for reduced signature.
The people behind the
MRE-the scientists, food technologists, and producers-are not sitting
still as efforts to improve the ration and meet the changing needs and
demands of the military customer are ceaseless.
The range, diversity
and innovation in menu planning, as infused in the MRE program to best
meet the changing demographics of the military population, is clear
indication of the steadfast commitment to continual product
improvement and customer focus to satisfy user requirements.
A continual product
improvement program will further enhance all fielded individual
rations by evaluating new items and preparing and transitioning
performance based requirements to the Defense Logistics Agency's
Defense Supply Center Philadelphia for procurement.
Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, samples
MRE food while Gerald Darsch, DoD Combat Feeding Program
director, describes the entrees.
have been received on the quality, variety and innovation being
applied to the MRE.
In a ration sampling
provided to some of the military's highest ranking officers assembled
in the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon, Gen. Henry
Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, perhaps summed it up
entrée items developed at the U.S. Soldier Systems Center
(Natick) and recommended and approved for MRE XXI production
include jambalaya and enchilada.
technology we've got today and continuing to improve ...it's
absolutely phenomenal...as close to home cooking as you can get,"
Current and future
initiatives will provide the technology to continually improve the MRE
so that it provides the war-fighter with sustained energy, mental
alertness and eat-on-the-move capability.
The DOD Combat Feeding
Program works daily to uncover new solutions and capabilities that
leverage revolutionary technologies and provide fully integrated
systems supporting U.S. military objectives.