Can Civilians Legally Buy Military MREs

In 1996, military MREs (meals ready to eat) started appearing with the message that the meals are designed for military personnel and that they are not for resale. This effectively made it illegal for military personnel to resell MRE meals. It is also illegal for civilians to buy MRE meals as they are government property.

However, this does not mean that military MREs have not made an appearance on eBay and other types of buying and selling websites. While it has made them more difficult to come by, especially in larger quantities, it is still possible to locate and buy these types of MREs.

However, there isn’t much that the government can do about these websites listing the items for sale as they are not actually in possession of the goods and are also not selling or buying the products. There have been a few attempts by the government to address the issue with the individuals who are using online platforms to sell these MREs.

Some e-mails have been sent to individuals selling the MRE’s from the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia’s Office of Operational Rations. It clearly states that the sale of the MRE meals are illegal and that the individual involved should cease and desist immediately and remove the items from the listing on eBay.

The emails also list a number of reasons why resale is illegal. Some of these reasons include:

– Rations are never considered surplus and should be consumed or disposed of in accordance with military regulations.
– The use and/or sale of the meals by unauthorized personnel compromises Operational Rations Security in that the meals could be tampered with or adulterated in some way.
– Military MRE’s are issued with and ITD (Inspection Test Date) which is 3 years from the date that the meal was produced. Meals that are not inspected are not considered to be safe for consumption. In essence, it means that any meals exceeding the ITD is considered to be expired and it is illegal to sell consumable products that have passed their expiry date.

Of course military MRE meals are designed to last much longer than 3 years if they are stored correctly at a temperature not exceeding 60 degrees Fahrenheit or frozen. However, there is no assurance that the meals have been stored correctly and the illegal sale of these meals could have compromised the products even before they have reached the Inspection Test Date.

It is important to note that most of these meals ready to eat on the internet are more than 8 years old which increases the risk that they are no longer safe for human consumption. Signs to look out for to check if an MRE is still good to eat include:

– Ensure that the packaging has not been damaged in any way.
– Check the color of the food. If it seems off color or greenish, it probably is not safe to eat.
– Check the texture of the meal. If it is slimy and does not hold it’s structure, it is best not to eat it.
– If it smells bad or emits a foul odor, it is not good to eat.
– If the meal tastes even slightly off, it is best to dispose of it.

Keep in mind that when MREs there is no legal recourse for reclaiming monies for MRE meals that have gone bad as the sale and purchase was illegal. Even eBay and other sites will not be able to assist in getting a refund as the buyer has received the product that they paid for under the full knowledge of it’s age and the assumption that the food contained in the MRE may no longer be safe for human consumption.

This said, the government does not seem to be that concerned with individuals selling a couple of MREs online or in other way. These MREs were probably for their own personal use and were brought home with them and then sold. The issue of making the sale of these military rations illegal is aimed at those who are stockpiling the meals and selling them to make a profit.

One MRE meal costs the government about $4.50 to manufacture. A fair price for the online sale of a case of MREs can be as high as $60 excluding shipping charges. Considering that the cost to acquire the meals is normally zero, it provides the seller with a 100% profit margin.

There is also the issue of theft that needs to be addressed. In most cases, persons in possession of military meals ready to eat for resale have acquired them illegally. This means that they have effectively stolen U.S. government property and can be charged with the crime.

It also means that a buyer is in possession of stolen property and can be prosecuted for the crime. There is little defense for a person found to be in possession of a military MRE as the packaging clearly states that it is property of the U.S. government and not for resale.

It is important to stress once again that selling and buying the meals is illegal and therefore a crime that can be prosecuted by the U.S. government. And to re-iterate, buying the items also carry the following additional risks:

– It can lead to charges of possession of stolen property. Keep in mind that these MREs are the property of the U.S. government and simply being on possession of them without authorization is illegal.
– The products may have expired and may no longer be safe for human consumption.
– The seller, in procuring the items illegally, may not have stored or transported them in a manner that would protect the product and therefore it is more likely that a damaged item that is no longer safe for consumption is being purchased.
– Sellers may procure the items from military base dumpsters where they have been disposed of as they have not been verified as safe for consumption when the Inspection Test Date has arrived.

The risks and hazards associated with purchasing military MREs illegally does not seem to have curbed the availability of the items to civilians. The meals are often available from the following sources:

– eBay is probably the most common place where military MREs are sold.
– Army Surplus Stores almost always have MREs available for sale. However, the cost can be almost double of what you can expect to pay on eBay or from a private seller. It is also important to note that even though it is an army surplus store, the items are still considered to be stolen and not for resale therefore the transaction is still illegal.
– Gun shows and other types of prepper or survivalist conventions and events also normally have a stock of military meals ready to eat available. The sale and purchase of the rations at these events is still however illegal.
– A private seller who is or was a member of the military will probably offer the cheapest option for buying the meals. However, it can be difficult to find a private seller with a military background.

Before buying from any of these sources, it is highly recommended to check the following:

– The production date, Inspection Test Date or Expiry Date. It is advisable to only buy cases on eBay that clearly depict the dates in a picture or photo of the product.
– Cheap MREs are more likely to have expired or been damaged in some way.
– Misleading information like stating that a box is sealed where a picture clearly shows an opened box or where the item is listed as new but the production date is ten years ago.
– Detailed information of exactly what is being sold is important.
– Look for the government warning that the product is U.S. property and not for resale. Products that do not carry this warning are probably not military MREs or are fake.
– Military spec rations or rations that are listed as similar to military MREs are also not military MREs
– Make sure that the FRH (Flameless Ration Heater) is included. Meals that do not include the FRH or that sell it separately are not military grade. Every military MRE comes with a FRH.
– Be wary of sellers that want to charge additional fees such as handling fees or where the shipping cost is much higher than average, especially if the buyer and seller are living in the same area. These additional charges are unnecessary and will simply cost more than purchasing MREs from a different source.

Once you have obtained the military MREs, it is important to store them correctly. It is recommended to store the items in a dark, dry area at a temperature lower than 60 degrees F. However, it is best to freeze the meals to extend their shelf life even longer. It is not recommended to keep MREs past 5 years without freezing. Even with freezing, the meals should be checked before being consumed to ensure that they are still good to eat.

Keep in mind that military MREs use a retort packaging method which sterilizes the meal and packaging while sealing it to prevent oxygen and bacteria from entering and spoiling the food contained inside. The same method has been used for decades in canning processes.

This means that no preservatives are used in the preparation of the meals and once the seal is opened, the meals will become susceptible to bacteria and oxygen in the same way any other food does. If the packaging seems to be even slightly damaged or simply in bad condition, it is highly recommended to dispose the meal immediately.

Military MREs are also frozen and transported in refrigerated containers in order to maintain their integrity and ensure the delivery of a safe product. It is advisable to find out how long MREs have spent defrosted and what temperatures they have been kept at before purchasing. Higher temperatures will lead to the product degrading much faster.

It is also worth noting that civilian grade MREs are in actual fact very similar to military grade MREs. They use the same packaging process for sterilization purposes and also refrain from using preservatives. The meals may taste slightly different and not provide the same type of menu such as a main, side and dessert.

The heating instructions for civilian MREs may also differ. It may require that the meal be placed in boiling water for a specified period of time or it may have a different heating system that is activated when the meal is opened and exposed to oxygen. These heating mechanisms are entirely safe.

This means that they have a similar shelf life as military grade MREs if they are stored under the same conditions which means freezing the products and keeping them in a cool dark area. It is however still important to pay attention to the manufacturing and expiry dates which should be contained on the MRE packaging. If there are no dates, it is best to avoid buying the meals.

Military MREs each come with a FRH or a Flamelss Ration Heater. These heaters are available for sale separately from civilian MREs and can be purchased at about $1 a piece through eBay or other online stores and camping and survival retail outlets.

It is however best to purchase civilian MREs from the manufacturer or an accredited retail/online outlet. There are no legal issues surrounding the purchase of regular ready to eat meals and therefore it is not necessary to resort to online auction sites or other means to get hold of the products.

On the downside, civilian MREs are much more expensive than the military versions. The military itself does not pay that much less for each MRE that it purchases but because the MREs are not being procured free of charge and illegally, there are manufacturing and other costs that need to be factored into the selling price.

Some MREs are not as good quality wise as others and it is recommended to do a little research and shop around for ones that meet the same standard as the military versions as well as any personal preferences. There are plenty of sites online that review the different products available on the market taking into consideration a wide range of factors such as taste, volume, shelf life and the manufacturing process.

It is unlikely that the government will come after a person who has purchased one or two military MREs, they are more likely to want the person who is responsible for selling the MREs or who procured the products illegally in the first place. None the less, the risk does exist that a person can be prosecuted for illegally purchasing the meals and/or possession of stolen goods. This will lead to a permanent criminal record.

It is therefore important to consider all the risks of purchasing military or government rations carefully before buying. It is also a good idea to consider purchasing comparable MREs that are manufactured for civilian consumers.

Whether you are purchasing MREs for current use or to store as future emergency rations, it is very important to keep all the above mentioned factors in mind, especially where the safety of the products for human consumption are concerned. Eating a product that has been contaminated by bacteria, oxygen or other pollutants can have mild to severe health consequences and in some cases, can be fatal.

The sale of military MREs is illegal while civilian MREs are not restricted although they must meet with the necessary FDA regulations.

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