I Opened Some C-Rations From The Vietnam War And This Is What Happened

Rich M.
By Rich M. January 18, 2021 08:40

I Opened Some C-Rations From The Vietnam War And This Is What Happened

Back when I was in the Army, we didn’t have MREs available to us; we were still eating C-Rations, the combat ration that was developed for use in World War II and kept which stayed in production on through the Vietnam War.

Towards the end of my time in the Army, they were just starting to issue the new MREs, which we were all convinced was three lies for the price of one: they weren’t meals, they weren’t ready and they weren’t edible.

Getting to the point of liking C-Rations was probably a bit of an acquired taste, much like I’ve heard soldiers tell me that getting to the point of liking MREs is today. As with anything, there were favorites and then there were the ones that everyone tried to avoid getting. The guys who ended up getting those particular selections would always try to trade them away, usually unsuccessfully for something else.

If C-Rations were more widely available today, they would be an ideal addition to anyone’s survival stockpile, much like people add both military and the civilian equivalents of MREs to their stockpile. However, I suspect that like the MREs, it would be more expensive than just buying canned goods.

Related: Making Your Own MREs at Home

Nevertheless, I decided to embark on an experiment and buy some C-Rations to check out, if I could find them. I thought that it would be interesting to see what they looked like after all this time and how well they weathered the years.

Considering that it is canned food, which will keep virtually forever, as long as the cans aren’t damaged, I thought the rations would have fared well. After some searching, I did find one sliced pork B-1 unit, which I bought.

I Opened Some C-Rations From From The Vietnam War And This Is What HappenedI’ll have to say that the packaging didn’t look all that good when it arrived. But stains on a box don’t mean all that much.

The photos of the contents, which the seller provided, were just enough out of focus, so that I couldn’t really ascertain the condition of the contents. Some of the cans showed some rust, but not bad enough to think that the cans had rusted through. I actually thought the staining on the box had come from another package, not this one. I was unpleasantly surprised with what I got.

Keep in mind that canned goods in general are supposed to withstand a lot, while still keeping the food inside safe.

The MILSPEC written for C-Rations requires a thicker can and for the can to be painted; both measures which were taken to help ensure that the rations lasted, even in the tropical climate of the Pacific, during World War II.

Opening the box, I quickly noticed that there was a problem, as I saw some sort of black or dark brown goo that was on the accessory pack and the jelly can. I think this was jelly that had somehow escaped the can.

I Opened Some C-Rations From From The Vietnam War And This Is What HappenedRemoving everything from the box, it seemed clear that I wasn’t going to find much edible in this box, which was a bit disappointing, considering what I had paid for it.

I Opened Some C-Rations From From The Vietnam War And This Is What HappenedC-Rations varied considerably through their 20 plus year service. During World War II, C-Rations included a cigarette packet of nine cigarettes. That part didn’t last long after the war, as the dangers of smoking cigarettes became more widely known.

Additional choices of entrees, as well as different B units were developed and added through the years, offering soldiers much needed variety.

A typical C-ration consisted of four cans and an accessory pack. The cans included:

  • M Unit – the main or meat course
  • B Unit – bread and dessert
  • Canned fruit
  • Canned jam
  • In addition, there was an accessory pack and a plastic spoon

Fortunately, I still have a P-38 can opener on my key ring, so I was well equipped to open the cans. I received this particular can opener back when I was in basic training, in 1978. I’ve had it on my key ring ever since then. It still works fine and has proven to be a useful part of my EDC.

M Unit

The M Unit in the C-Ration I bought was supposed to contain sliced pork. However, the bottom of the can had rusted through and the liquid had escaped.

I Opened Some C-Rations From From The Vietnam War And This Is What Happened

The remaining meat had hardened into a round rust-colored block which was indistinguishable as being anything in particular.

I Opened Some C-Rations From From The Vietnam War And This Is What HappenedSorry, I didn’t try eating it. While there is a lot I’ll do for my readers, getting food poisoning is not high on that list.

Canned Fruit

I had much higher hopes for the canned fruit, than I did for the pork. Canned fruit was always a favorite part of the C-Ration. Many soldiers would save their canned fruit to eat as a snack later.

The can of pears in this package looked intact and the lid had not bulged out; the typical sign for a bad can of food. Nevertheless, when I opened it, it didn’t appear to be edible. I don’t think pears are supposed to be that color.

FruitThe liquid had somehow evaporated from this can. I’m not sure how, as the can seemed to be intact. The fruit inside had turned black, all the way through. While it was still soft enough that I could cut it with a spoon, it was considerably harder than canned pears normally are.

The pears weren’t just oxidized either, something I considered for a minute. There was a clear odor of spoiled food, quickly ending any ideas I had of tasting it to see if it was still edible.

I’d have to say, after opening this can, that the idea that canned food is good, just as long as the can is intact, may not always be true. I’ve seen canned food older than this, which survived just fine.

But in this case, I had a can which appeared to be good, but the contents clearly wasn’t. All I can say from this is if it’s old; there’s no guarantee that it is still good, even though most old canned food will last for decades.

Canned Jam

The small can of jam intended to be eaten with the crackers in the B Unit seemed to be intact, with the exception that there was what looked like chocolate syrup on the outside of the can.

After cleaning it off however, the can looked just fine. But when I opened it, it was clear that only about a third of the original contents was still there and that had changed considerably. It was black, much like the pears and didn’t smell good at all.

JamWhat’s especially surprising about this grape jam going bad is that it had a high sugar content. Sugar, much like salt, is a natural preservative. That’s why jams and jellies are also called by the name “preserves”. Yet the sugar didn’t seem to protect this jam from going bad.

B Unit

The one edible portion of this particular C-Ration was the B Unit.

There are four different varieties of B Units that were produced, with three of them containing crackers and some sort of chocolate. That could be fudge, as this can had, two chocolate bars, or hot chocolate mix.

The fourth type of B Unit contained breakfast cereal. I never saw one of those during my service though.

B UnitThe crackers tasted just like they always had. But then, those always tasted kind of old and hard anyway. They were more like hard tack than normal crackers, even though the manufacturer took some pains to make them look more like cookies.

Of the whole pack, the chocolate was always everyone’s favorite. The fudge and chocolate that the Army used for C-Rations is not the same as you might find in your local supermarket or convenience store.

I don’t know what they did to it, but it wouldn’t melt. This one, which was labeled “Vanilla Fudge” was a bit hard, but still quite edible.

Related: Turning Flour into Hardtack Biscuits With Over 100 Year Shelf Life

Accessory Pack

The other thing that survived the ravages of the years intact was the accessory pack. My accessory pack consisted of:

  • Plastic spoon
  • Instant coffee
  • Powdered coffee creamer
  • Sugar – 6 grams
  • Salt – 4 grams (good for combating heat)
  • A book of matches – not waterproof, but specially designed for damp environments
  • Two pieces of peppermint gum
  • Specially designed toothpicks, which are supposed to be a toothbrush substitute
  • Packet of toilet paper containing 22.5 “sheets” (think squares from your roll at home)

I Opened Some C-Rations From From The Vietnam War And This Is What HappenedEarlier version of the accessory pack had cigarettes, as previously noted, as well as halzone fuel tablets, which would allow soldiers to heat their meat dish, without having to resort to starting a fire. But the surgeon general ordered the removal of the halzone tablets back in 1945.

When I was in, the most common way of heating C-Ration meat dishes was placing them on the exhaust manifold of a vehicle.

A Couple of Final Notes

As much as I’d like to have some C-Rations for my personal survival stash, this experiment was obviously unsuccessful. There are probably perfectly good C-Rations out there; but if this box was any indication, there are some bad ones too. At an average cost of $100 each (yes, that was $100), I’d avoid them.

A large part of the reason why the Army replaced the C-Ration with the MRE was because of portability. C-Rations are actually rather hard to carry around with you. They don’t fit well in a cargo pocket on uniform pants, whereas the MREs will. Rather, C-Rations have to be carried in a pack.

Back in World War II, the soldiers of the US Army petitioned the quartermaster’s corps to change the cans used for making C-Rations, replacing the typical round cans with flat, oblong cans, much like sardines come in. The idea was to make it possible to stuff the cans in their pockets. However, there wasn’t enough of the right kind of machinery available to make the cans, so the idea was scrapped.

While this was a fun experiment, as are all experiments looking to see how preserved foods fared through the years, tests of this nature need to be undertaken with care. There is a very real risk of serious illness from eating spoiled food. That’s not the kind of risk any of us want to take, especially during a time when we’re trying to survive.

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Rich M.
By Rich M. January 18, 2021 08:40
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  1. poot January 18, 13:16

    i went into the usaf in 1980. i lived on c-rats more a few times. when mre’s were finally issued the headquarters company would take them and give us c-rats. i liked them and when other airmen wouldn’t eat theirs i’d take them. i think i even gained weight during one deployment. its hard to get an mre set up as an early warning device like we did with c-rat cans. by the way, the pork slices were one of my favorites.

    Reply to this comment
  2. L .B. January 18, 14:22

    I lived on C rations when I was out in the field with the Vietminh . They were packed in the early 1940’s. You are right one has to squire a taste for them.. I still cannot eat ham and Lima beans to this day.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Illini Warrior January 18, 15:12

    what’s another interesting food archival to investigate is Civil Defense food from the 1960s ….

    they’ll find cans of crackers (biscuits) and hard rock candy alot >> the crackers are usually like the Dead Sea Scrolls but the candy is usually good to go ….

    Reply to this comment
    • PB- dave January 19, 01:30

      Hey Illini, that’s not candy…. it was a carbohydrate supplement …. lol
      And yes they were good, we cracked open a couple tins.

      Reply to this comment
  4. Orion January 18, 15:25

    As a sailor during the Vietnam Conflict … (many days out to sea, without even a speck of land) … we often got bored, and a few times pilfered emergency stores, about two decks below the brig … and found C-rats. Belonging to A-Gang (auxiliary division) we were notoriously the McHale’s Navy group … so this was SOP. A standard watch for A-gang was Aft Steering, which was 4 decks below everything … so only an occasional roving watch would ever visit … so there was some privacy … and we stored and kept C-rats for mid watch snacks. Personally after 3 years of Navy chow … the C-rats were a welcomed alternative. Dated 1943 they still had Cigarettes, and my favorites were Crackers with the Peanut Butter, and chopped ham with eggs …. but never found one I didn’t prefer to a constant diet of roast beef up on the mess decks.

    Reply to this comment
    • Kritischer January 18, 18:44

      Thank you for sharing. I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by this.

      Reply to this comment
    • Eddie January 18, 21:15

      When I was in the Army in Vietnam I was on Waterpoint and away from base camp for 2 – 3 months at a time “C rats” and an occasional hot meal was what we had to eat. The funny thing was with the C rats we got a bar about 6 x 3 x 2 of C-4 to cook our C rats

      Reply to this comment
    • lawdog74 January 19, 08:00

      I was in the Marine Corps from 70-74 we were eating C-rats from the 50’s and 60’s they were all edible,the green eggs and ham the worst.I always liked the chocolate covered cookies. The cigarettes were dry as hell and awful,they still had some with filterless cigarettes, Lucky Strikes, Pall Malls,Camels.

      Reply to this comment
  5. DEFENDER88 January 18, 15:32

    Thanks for doing this and the info learned and sharing.

    Reply to this comment
    • Alexxander January 18, 19:42

      I don’t know what to make of that. Why were only some cans rotted out completely? Were they laying in water, soil or the elements and reboxed when you purchased them?

      Or do you feel like it was consistent with the other cans in the box?

      I did boot camp in late 1976 & early 1977.

      Prior to me joining the Marine Corp, my father was a lifer in the Army and kept us all alive with C Rats.

      Nice Project

      Reply to this comment
  6. Edi January 18, 15:44

    In the mid to late ’60s I taught riding lessons at at church camp on the Chesapeake Bay. We ate so much peanut butter I asked where the owner kept it since I didn’t see
    it in the kitchen. He laughed and said it was “war rations” that he was supposed to throw away in ’58. We never got sick.

    Reply to this comment
    • Bac si January 18, 18:24

      I remember in the mid sixties having cans of “cheese” in the C-rats. They were labeled “edible plastic”. Wonder how these would have faired.

      Reply to this comment
  7. Panther January 18, 15:59

    Before I shipped out to Vietnam, 1968, in training we were fed c-rats. In country we had the same “vintage”. They were first issued in WWII and Korea, we could tell sometimes buy the cigarettes in the kit. Chesterfield, Lucky Strike etc. To my knowledge, there were no newly made c-rats so these were older than you think.

    Reply to this comment
  8. The Duke of Texas January 18, 16:03

    An informative article, thank you. I have seen an earlier article regarding the storage of canned food which reported that over time the nutritional value of the stored can food continues to decline even though the physical presentation of the food appears to be unharmed and still edible. People ate the food, thinking it was still viable, without knowing there was no nutritional value obtained from it’s consumption. They were found to have starved, sometimes to death, with full stomachs. Their bodies consumed first their fat and then their muscle mass in an effort to stay alive. Certainly something to consider. If I can find the original source I will forward it for “peer review’.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Tom January 18, 16:21

    One small correction – halzone was for water purification, and was removed due to it’s short shelf life after opening (2-3 days). What you’re thinking of was hexamine tablets, which worked just fine heating you’re meal, except that it gave your position away my its distinctive odor.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Miss Kitty January 18, 16:25

    In a word…yuck! I’m surprised anything in that box was useable after 50-odd years.

    Whoever sold that to you as food ought to have to eat it themselves! $100 for an obviously damaged box of garbage!

    I’m wondering if it was stored improperly and that’s why the contents were in such rough shape. Otoh, one damaged can would release enough moisture to potentially rust out the rest of the cans unless it was removed immediately, which obviously this wasn’t.

    On the subject of canned goods in general, I’ve had a supposedly new can of Spam turn out to have a broken seal and was quite spoiled, and a can of cranberry sauce I my preps that was supposed to be good for another year began leaking. Like anything made by man, there is always the potential for someone along the production line to have made a mistake, the equipment to be malfunctioning, the cans themselves to be defective, or the can dropped and damaged.

    That’s why it’s so important to check your preps frequently, and to inspect items before buying if at all possible.

    Reply to this comment
  11. grammy em January 18, 16:26

    something i have noticed about older cans of food is that if the food is acidic, like fruit, the product begins to taste metallic. acid leaches the metal. mfgrs have tried various coatings on the inner side of the can to stop this. bpa worked pretty well, but had obvious problems of its own. glass prevents this problem, but is heavy and breakable. foods in glass should be stored in the dark and at cool temps to slow taste and texture changes in the food. food may be safe for years after such changes, but will have lost much of its nutrient value and appeal. i guess there just isn’t a magic bullet–we can’t pack something away for teotwaki and come back years later and find it pristine and yummy. we have to do the work regularly: buy food and grow garden, store/dehydrate/can to fill pantry/freezer/root cellar. eat. rotate stock. repeat.

    Reply to this comment
  12. Bill January 18, 16:29

    Canned goods last quite a while, usually at least ten years, and they can be used up regularly and rotated. They aren’t “military”, so they lack that prestige.

    Reply to this comment
  13. Miss Kitty January 18, 16:32

    A question. Where did the photograph at the top of the story come from? I bet those rations would have been in better shape.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck January 18, 20:26

      Reasonable minds can differ. With the large stain on the box, I would immediately suspect the contents. I think Rich was overly optimistic to think that the contents would be okay. The crackers may have been edible but not nutritional given the state of the rest of the contents.

      We have no idea how long those C-rations sat out on the runway at some airfield in Vietnam before being sold to some Chinese company who then sold them here in the states. Or worse yet, sat in some Quonset hut just off the runway or on the Marsden matting at some abandoned fire base. If they were personally salvaged items by some Vietnam era vet, we don’t know how long they sat in his corrugated metal shed in his backyard in Barstow, CA.

      Rich didn’t state the physical location from whence he obtained the C-rats. That would make a big difference in whether I purchased them or not. I’m surprised the shipper accepted them for shipping with the case in that condition.

      Most shippers I have dealt with won’t accept a package in that condition. They don’t want their other merchandise damaged by a cargo that has obvious signs of leakage.

      We have learned for a fact that 68 year old canned goods are inedible. Whew! That is a load off my mind. I was worried. I can relax. I won’t have to worry about my stores as I don’t expect to be around for 62 more years. Also noted is that my Mountain Home stocks are only guaranteed through the year 2044. Also not a big concern as I really hope I am not around for another 23 years. I couldn’t stand all the excitement.

      Will we have 4GW type uprising in the U.S.? We have all the trappings of what we used to call a Banana Republic. Government seated by illegitimate ballot counting (Who was it who said, “It doesn’t matter who voted. What matters is who counts the votes”?) We have federale armed troops guarding the ceremonial crowning of the next El President. We have unknown thousands of undercover federale grupos also guarding the imperial palacio. Will the new latino senator from the PDRK introduce a bill to change the USA to Los Estados Unidos del Norte or will we just become Mexico del Norte with reportedly tens of thousands of our southern neighbors reported heading in this direction?

      It looks like someone in China may have cursed us because we certainly are living in “interesting times.”

      Reply to this comment
      • Consco January 19, 00:21

        I so agree with everything you say here. Except the 23 years part. I am only 59YO. LOL. Saw today where one of the Intelligence agency’s found evidence of Chinese election interference and the CIA covered it up.
        We really are a banana republic.
        Would be nice if smarter people than me could take the 477 counties that supposedly voted for Biden and the 2477 counties that voted for trump and split the country along those lines. Trade deals, currency deals etc. It can be done. Of course none of the power mongers want less influence so we will end up in a real war instead.
        We have closed FB and Twitter accounts and now use Duck Duck Go instead of google. Hope more people do the same and hit them where it hurts, in the wallet.
        Keep plugging away LCC and giving us common sense advice and hard won wisdom.
        Yes you can show your wife this last line!!!!

        Reply to this comment
      • IvyMike January 19, 03:28

        I’m still embarrassed by my libtard friends who were too intellectually lazy and dishonest to see how stupid the claim of Russia stealing the election from Hillary was, now I’m equally embarrassed by the Trumptards who are willing to ignore all the evidence and swallow the the even more idiotic lie that the election was stolen. far as I’m concerned you can all dig an earth bag shelter and pull the roof in on top of you.

        Reply to this comment
        • left coast chuck January 19, 05:58

          “The fact that a second American civil war would be nastier than the first — itself no picnic —does not mean it won’t happen. That depends on whether the Washington Establishment can recognize it has a legitimacy problem, get its act together and provide competent governance. It is currently failing that test and I expect it to continue to fail. Any member of the Establishment who dares subordinate court politics to the good of the nation or advocates more than a very modest change quickly finds he is no longer a member of the “Establishment.”

          “Washington pretends to offer democracy but both parties are largely one party, The Establishment Party. Its game is remaining The Establishment and enjoying the pleasures thereof. “

          The foregoing was written by William S. Still in his column on July 17, 2009. Mr. Still is one of this country’s leading experts on 4th Generation Warfare. If you haven’t read his series of columns On War and his critique of our mishandling of Iraq and Afghanistan, you owe it to yourself to read his musings and commentary.

          I am not a Trump fan. I wish one party or the other had put forth a decent candidate. It was not to be. You may think me a wild-eyed MAGA hat wearer. I’m not. But I am dismayed at the incredible waste of taxpayer money spent by The Establishment trying to discredit Trump. Left alone he did a good enough job all by himself. But The Establishment couldn’t stand that he was probing into areas that they wished to remain in the closet.

          The one thing that the MAGA folks are dead on correct about is that Washington and all its thousands of branches all over the world is The Swamp and that is one of the things they wanted to do, is drain the swamp.

          Unfortunately it is too big to drain in four years and now all the work that went into the draining is down the drain to use a metaphor that amuses me.

          I am confident in my opinion that the election was stolen from Trump. I am also confident in my opinion that it wasn’t just the Democratic party that had a hand in it, I believe a significant number of Never Trumpers also plaid a part in it. As Mr. Still suggests, they both are The Establishment. Look at how many relatives are in government, either by marriage or direct or indirect descendants in both parties. It’s like we have royalty all over again. As someone slicker than I said, “It doesn’t matter who votes. What matters is who counts the votes.”

          I can’t wait until Chelsea Clinton-(como se llama) runs for the senate from some eastern state. Her father-in-law just happens to be very wealthy and very well connected politically although most of us have never heard his name.

          It seems in this election, the company who furnished the machines and did the vote counting in heavily democratic areas has deep ties to the democratic party and Mike can safely say that he is confident the election wasn’t stolen?

          You want more proof of illegitimacy than 25,000 armed soldiers guarding the capitol with who knows how many equally well or better armed plain clothes goons from Homeland Security and all the other alphabet agencies that get to carry guns for the federales? Yeah, sure, that’s a sure sign of a legitimate government.

          25,000 troops is two full Army divisions. Not some combat division where there are slots unfilled. That’s two filled T.O.O. divisions. I don’t think we have that many grunts in Afghanistan and I have reason to believe we don’t have that many in Iraq presently. It’s probably close to how many troops we had on the ground in-country for the second Iraq invasion. I would have to go back and check the numbers.

          I will pick up my soapbox and toddle off to bed for tonight.

          Reply to this comment
        • Miss Kitty January 19, 14:19

          Don’t hold back, IvyMike, tell us how you really feel! Lol.
          Morning grumpiness aside, I have little patience myself with extremists of any stripe, but even less when they seek to silence all those who would dissent. We are seeing that now. There are actually people who want to send Trump supporters to “reeducation and deprogramming camps”.
          I don’t care what your politics are, talk like that is absolutely chilling.

          Reply to this comment
        • PatriotCowgirl January 19, 21:10

          @IvyMike – if you believe the election was not stolen, then I’m embarrassed for you that you believe the complicit lamestream media. go to https://hereistheevidence.com and go through all the evidence. If you really believe an 80 year old man who spent the entire campaign time in his basement, and who barely got enough votes from his own party for the nomination, would get more votes than Obama, you are smoking something.

          Now — back to this wonderful experiment! Thank you Rich for doing this! I’ve always wondered, as I have some C-Rations from my father and my grandfather that I keep more for sentimental reasons. I do have other stores that I test and rotate frequently so I should be OK !

          I have decided though, that should the SHTF, I will “hide” those C-Rations in plain site so any nefarious types who break in and try to rob me will find those and perhaps run with them… then I can track them down as they writhe in pain and redistribute the other (healthier) things they stole to any hapless people nearby who need help.

          Well, we all have to have plans!

          Reply to this comment
        • Consco January 20, 15:57

          Perhaps after 4 years of investigations we will see the truth.

          Reply to this comment
        • Golden_Eagle January 28, 22:36

          no, you’re just blind and ignorant, and trying to position yourself as reasonable but you’re just a liar, a liar of the type that would conspire to steal the election to install an enemy of the state as the US president.

          Reply to this comment
  14. arl1440 January 18, 16:47

    In 1978 I ate C rations from the 50’s and they were fine as long as there was no rust we where told no one got sick.
    But you get a little plugged up if you don’t drink a canteen of water with each meal.

    Reply to this comment
  15. Dupin January 18, 17:32

    Having been in for both C-Rats and MREs, The MREs in general tasted better than the C-Rats. Either of them tasted better hot than at ambient temp. The peanut butter would make a good fuel starter to heat the C-Rats, but the MREs could come with a heating sleeve you could slide them in to heat up.

    Some were better than others, and there were one or two (which ones are blissfully erased from my memory) that you avoided at all costs, as they were nasty hot or cold. Ack…the Vienna sausage equivalent was one nasty one.

    Neither rise to the quality of the modern freeze-dried foods from Mountain House, AlpineAire or others. They fell more into the Crocodile Dundee definition 🙂

    Reply to this comment
  16. EK January 18, 17:53

    I served in the Marines during the transition from C-rats to MREs. During my first few exercises in the field, I was pleasantly surprised that our decade old (at least) C-rats were made by Blue Star Foods in Council Bluffs, IA, just across the river from my home town of Omaha.

    Reply to this comment
  17. Marine Mike January 18, 18:22

    Caleb the tablets where troxene not halezone in Vietnam we only used them if we were on a fire base.Otherwise we in the jungle we used c-4 exploresive it burned hot & fast to heat meals.Also there was no smell.Like the troxene tablet smelled bad and give away your position.Also I like to the books you owe me I order them a year ago the Lost ways the download won’t work in a emp that’s why I want the books you got the payment along time ago. PLEASE SEND My Books Marine Mike 1/4 3rd. Marine div. 68 & 69

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  18. Michel Vincent January 18, 18:34

    A buddy and I tried 20 year old C-Rats. It did not kill us and did not taste that bad. When your hungry C-Rats work.

    Reply to this comment
  19. Westpacwill January 18, 18:48

    On exchange at the Royal Naval College in Britain 1981-1983, many exercises on the channel or the moors with midshipmen, we ate their version of Combat Rations that had been produced 20-30 years prior. Never opened a can that was spoiled at all, although the Chocolate Bar (maybe Heath? cannot recall) was too hard to even consider eating.

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  20. Ed January 18, 19:27

    I was in the Army and toured Vietnam in 68 & 69. We not only had C rats but even had some K rats “just for fun?” All had cigarettes and most were fairly good. We heated ours with balls of C4 dug out of claymores or demo packs. It worked just fine as long as you didn’t stomp on it as some fools found out the hard way! I left long before MREs and bought C rats for hunting and fishing camps. I happened to have a case with several untouched meals left over. We had stored them in a cool, dry place and to tell the truth had forgotten about them until your article, thank you! I went out to see how they had faired when I finished reading. The case took some time to get to but when we did it appeared to be in great shape. Upon opening it all of the boxes were clean and free from any stains! We opened each individual box and found one that had a bit of a stain on the bottom which we found to be water that had somehow gotten in the case but hadn’t left a mark!? I only opened one can as I want to keep the rest as secure as possible. It was one I disliked very much, “HAM & MFers”, (Lima beans). It looked good, smelled good and upon very lightly tasting tasted the same! This leads me to surmise that how the cas carrying your Cs was most likely kept in an uncontrolled storage area open to heat, cold, wet and dry conditions over the years. I’ll bet that our own government has a warehouse that is a controlled environment that has been forgotten and has Cs, maybe Ks and LRRP Rations from Vietnam somewhere………I say this because upon DEROS I was assigned to Fort Bragg to wait for my ETS. During this time we made formation and went into stealth mode before crap details were handed out. One day we were in an area that had tons of conex containers all around. We looked in a few and found tons of gear and supplies from not only Vietnam but Korea also! I’d bet WWII and possibly WWI were stashed in the area. Then there are the rumors of hangars full of Jeeps, Aircraft, APCs, Tanks, etc. hidden all over the world. The only true reference I know of is from a good friend who was a Marine who, after Vietnam, was stationed in Hawaii. He and his squad found some disturbed earth while on maneuvers. Upon checking they found buried WWII ammo cans with tons of ammo still sealed inside! When he reported this he was told to cover it back up and forget it! Our good old government “saving us money!” Be safe!

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  21. OldRedleg January 18, 19:29

    I remember the Army C-Rations from the early ’70s. Since I didn’t smoke, my favorite part was the small pack of cigarettes that came in each ration pack (3-5 cigs IIRC). After a week out in the field, I could “buy” almost anything from the smokers. A can of peaches or pears was always my favorite or some extraneous pogey bait such as meatsticks that someone happened to bring along.

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    • left coast chuck January 18, 23:12

      WWII C-rats had a ten pack of cigarettes. Guess the armed forces were starting to cut back on smoking by the time the Vietnam follies rolled around.

      The choco bar in the Brit rations was probably best dissolved in hot tea. That’s what we did with the hot chocolate hockey puck that come in the C-rats, dissolved it in a cup of hot coffee.

      A relative of mine who spent a lot of swamp time in the delta tells me the best way to heat C-rats was a chunk of C-4 which made them instantly hot.

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  22. Dave from SanAntonio January 18, 19:33

    I remember C-Rats. I, also, remember the first MREs that were issued…and the author is correct about them…they were horrible. The newer ones…well…I still liked the C-Rats better. What many seem to forget, though, is that military rations are manufactured with the idea that they will be used during warfare and/or extreme emergency situations where durability, safety and lifespan of the food are the primary concerns. Taste is more of an afterthought because if you are hungry, you’ll eat it. The current MREs are good for short-term ( and it’s important to remember ‘short-term’) emergency, camping use or as a ‘novelty’ type of item, but long-term use…I wouldn’t unless it can’t be helped. The lifespan of C-Rats, if ‘properly’ stored and cared for is really an unknown, but I ate some in 1985 that were made in 1943. Still as good and ‘yummy’ as the day they were made. MREs have an average lifespan of 5 years ‘if’ they are properly stored, although, they might get ‘inspected’ about every 5 years to determine if they are still good. Another ‘novelty’ type of military ration, you can buy, are from Russia. Haven’t tried them as they are quite expensive per single ration pack and unless you can read and understand Russian you might not know what you are getting, although, they ‘might’ have English on the pack to let you know.

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  23. Rowan January 18, 19:36

    IMHO MRE’s are a valuable and useful addition to a stockpile and when I have a chance to add a few cases to mine, I do it. Pretty sure a lot of other people do as well for similar reasons ::::thumbs up::::::::

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  24. Rucksack Rob January 18, 20:21

    I was in from ’75 to ’06 (w/ a 7 year break in service) 24 years total. We still had cigarettes in our C-Rats up through about ’79 (probably older stocks). Around ’80-81 is when we started seeing MRE’s on a regular basis. While stationed in Alaska in the 70’s, frozen C-Rats was the norm, being in Recon, we didn’t always have access to vehicles (for the manifold heating method) or our Yukon stoves (in our 10 man tents) but we did have plenty of ‘Heat-Tabs’ (Trioxane fuel tabs). With a B-unit can, modified with holes punched around the base and the lips bent in slightly, that made a great little stove. We would also take an M-60 (machine Gun ammo) bandoleer (or two) and put our main course into it and carry them under our parkas for a few hours. That kept them from freezing but we still had to use a heat-tab or two to get them hot enough to warm your belly. Just typical ‘Grunt Tech’ at it’s best…

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    • left coast chuck January 18, 23:16

      In below freezing weather always carry your next meal and your canteen between your longjohn shirt and your next garment. It won’t be hot but it won’t be frozen either. You will only put it next to your skin or between your longjohn shirt and your undershirt once. That’s a quick lesson from the school of experience. Don’t bother asking me how I learned that.

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  25. Tarheel January 18, 23:48

    During the first Gulf War I was sitting in the middle of Turkey with NATO AWACS. The Germans brought their equivalent to our C-rations and, like us, they had their preferences.

    A German opened a box and acted like he had found a Golden Ticket…a special meat entree. He opened the can and showed the contents to the rest of our international team.

    It looked like some kind of pork encased in jelly fat…and that was the good one?

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  26. Miss Kitty January 19, 02:49

    I’ve actually eaten canned pork roast and it was quite good. This was government issue, too, so it wasn’t some fancy chi-chi brand.
    Then again, it might just have been better than the other stuff he’d been getting.😜

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  27. left coast chuck January 20, 22:39

    Yesterday, during the blackout ordered by the electric utility company to hold down wildfires which they have been causing the past few years, I decided that I would try my store of Mountain House freeze dried meals, good until 2043.

    Last night we had chicken and fried rice. I followed the instruction to the letter but the rice was undercooked. I think rather than just letting the food sit in hot water it might have been better to put the food and water on the fire after mixing it and cook it for the 9 minutes called for.

    This morning I had scrambled eggs and sausage patty with potatoes, red peppers and onion. I still followed the instructions to the letter. The taste wasn’t too bad. It still had that converted freeze dried taste to it, but hey, these are survival rations, not Michelin four star dining. I will say that you should avoid looking into the pouch. The contents, despite being tasty looked like something you might find on the sidewalk outside a Marine Corps slop chute Some Saturday or Sunday morning before the clean-up crew started their clean up. It’s appearance got a zero on my rating scale although the taste was about a 3+.

    Loaded with carbs, fat and salt all of which is very important if one is engaging in strenuous endeavors such a bugging out or warding off zombies.

    And the shelf life of the ones I have is 2043, so I, perhaps, will have something to pass on to my heirs.

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  28. Nemo January 21, 23:06

    When I took weekend warrior training down in Ft. Polk, LA back in 1972, I remember being fed out in the field where our main meals in cans were put in hot water in huge kettles. The “cooks” dipped a can out for you from the very hot water, and you ate or traded away what you got. I remember, if it serves me right, that my favorites were spaghetti (but not sure if it had meat or not) and I believe the other was pork and beans. BUT, my favorite out of the whole bunch was a thickly made chocolate and coconut cookie. Now that was really good and something to look forward to. Anyone remember this? It seems it was in the one half of a can and the other side was salt, pepper, “toothbrush” that you chewed to splinter it and then stroke food out from between your teeth. That’s the best I remember of that. Does anyone else remember that little delicacy?

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    • left coast chuck January 22, 04:24

      The last time I ate C-rats was probably 1961. As I recall, the crackers and jam came in one can. The chocolate hockey puck, the coffee, sugar and creamer came in one can as did the fruit. The canned fruit was always the most popular of any item with the exception of cigarettes for those who smoked. The only desert I remember was pound cake. Every box had some kind of cake or cookie but this long gone, pound cake is the only desert other than canned fruit. I think the accessory can held a little pack of Chicklets.

      While many did not like the ham and lima beans, that was a dish reminiscent of home for me as we frequently had ham and lima beans for dinner. Spaghetti had meatballs as I remember, little miniature ones. The meal I despised the most was sausage patties in gravy. Most of the time I ate C-rats was in cold temperatures without the ability to heat them other than body heat. The “gravy” was mostly fat and cold sausage in congealed fat is not appetizing to me.

      On Okinawa during typhoons when the mess hall was closed we ate C-rations but had some way of heating them in the office where I worked. I worked in the battalion headquarters, so we had hot C-rats while men who worked in other endeavors had to do with cold C-rats.

      Memories of long, long ago and far, far away.

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  29. ShirlGirl January 26, 16:43

    i really appreciate the patriotism that is coming across in the email responses, God Bless USA, from a frozen northern cousin, in Alberta Canada.

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  30. Hawthorn January 28, 17:02

    While I appreciate the experiment, these ‘rats looked terrible! I’d be after the ass that swindled me… Especially if they tried to pawn that off on eBay. That said, Germany actually makes a form of c rats too. Got a box back in ’03. Wish I still had it, but we got hungry a few times during the Obama years. With the MREs I always had a weakness for the freeze dried fruit cocktail. Of course that was many years ago & they don’t offer that in the new ones. Motor Sergeant & I had a battle of wills ( I won) over the Frankfurter MRE I got on FTX once. No clue how old that one was as I had never seen one before or since. It was still better than the new swill they were giving us at the time. Nowadays, I don’t even wanna look at an MRE much less ponder having to actually eat another. I’ll stick with my home canned goods or if feeling froggy maybe see if I can get something different tastewise from across the pond.

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