UNDISCLOSED LOCATION - Staff Sgt. Rachael Marzette is the noncommissioned officer in charge of public health at the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, undisclosed location, Southwest Asia. Some of her many duties include conducting preventative health assessments, hearing tests, clearances for individuals pursuing retraining and her most likely least favorite task, taste testing Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).
Contrary to popular belief, the contents of an MRE may seem like it's been in that familiar plastic pouch forever, but it really hasn't.
According to Capt. Melinda Eaton, 386th Expeditionary Medical Group, officer in charge of public health, MREs have about three years after their pack date before they expire. However, public health can inspect them and extend their shelf life for up to two more years.
"We test them and we're able to extend them at six-month increments depending on the quality of the MREs," said Marzette, who deployed here from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., knowing that taste-testing was in her future.
But in order for an MRE to make it past that three-year mark and be extended for six months it has to literally pass the smell test.
"We have to inspect the whole thing, from the box itself, the outside of the box, make sure the correct information is on it, then you open that up and you exam each MRE individually," said Marzette. "You have to examine the outer package of it, open it up and taste everything inside. Taste it, smell it, look at it; we have guidance that tells us it has to look like 'this,' it has to smell like 'this' and if it doesn't meet that criteria it's a discrepancy and it gets reported."
Recently, in 16 hours Marzette, Eaton and a few volunteers taste tested 84 cases of MREs, totaling 1008 MREs.
"We knocked it out in one day," said Marzette. "We didn't eat breakfast that day because we knew we were gonna be full all day long." Who knew that so much time, care and effort went into making sure the meals that get complained about so much, are indeed ready to eat?
"They are cost efficient and easier to maintain than any other food we carry to use in an emergency situation," said Marzette.
Tech. Sgt. April Pham, noncommissioned officer in charge of rations, whose favorite MRE is the barbecued beef also sees the value in MREs.
"I think it's convenient and there are so many things in there," she said.
MREs here are issued to aircrew members and any others who are required to conduct missions off base in areas where there's no access to prepared meals.