U.S. Coast Guard approved lifeboat ration bars are not common storage foods. Nevertheless they have a specific use important enough to warrant inclusion in personal preparedness programs.
As many involved with emergency preparedness discover, finding foods capable of being stored for long periods of time under harsh conditions that will remain both palatable and nutritious is a real undertaking. This is especially a problem with vehicle emergency kits where interior temperatures in the Spring, Summer, or Fall may exceed 120°F (50°C) for hours at a time each day. Very little in the way of anything usefully edible will survive such sustained temperatures for long before it breaks down, becomes unpalatable, with most or all of its nutrients damaged or destroyed.
This is a problem not only for those of us trying to build vehicle emergency kits but also for mariners needing to provision life boats that might be exposed to anything from desert temperatures to artic climates. In reaction to this and a number of other marine emergency preparedness needs most of the world’s maritime nations met to develop the Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) conventions, one of which concerns itself with emergency provisions for lifeboats. In the United States responsibility for implementing the SOLAS regulations falls to the U.S. Coast Guard and they have developed guidelines by which manufacturers must abide in order to become Coast Guard approved suppliers of life boat rations.
Among the guideline requirements are:
- Lifeboat rations must be capable of withstanding long periods of high temperatures or sub freezing weather without significant deterioration;
- must not increase bodily water needs with high protein or salt levels yet provide sufficient calories to keep the body from burning its fat reserves which also increases bodily water needs;
- be compact in size and lightweight;
- be sufficiently palatable that injured or ill passengers would be able to eat them;
- not constipate nor cause diarrhea;
- use packaging that is sufficiently durable to withstand rough conditions.
Those manufacturers that meet these guidelines can submit their products for approval to be placed on the U.S. Coast Guard Equipment List 160.046 – Emergency Provisions for Merchant Vessels which may be found here: http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-m/mse/equiplists/160046.pdf
Each of these companies produces lifeboat rations. In the U.S. the two most commonly available product lines are the Mainstay Emergency Food Ration and the Datrex Red (or White) or Blue ration.
The Mainstay rations are lemon flavored and available in 1200, 2400, and 3600 calorie packages. The Datrex rations are coconut flavored and available in 2400 (red or white ration) or 3600 (blue ration) calorie packages. As per regulations both have a five year shelf life. Each package from either company has been tabletized and subpackaged to make it easier to serve them out in controlled portions.
Both are primarily composed of complex carbohydrates, fairly low protein, enriched with extra vitamins and minerals then vacuum sealed in heavy aluminized plastic pouches similar to military MREs. Flavors are noted above, textures are similar to a fairly dense pound cake. I’ve sampled both and while I wouldn’t care to eat them for a week straight for the relative few days a vehicle or similar emergency kit is intended to get you through they’ll get the job done and not turn into something nasty after a few months of hot weather. In the cool times of the year when vehicle interiors do not climb into oven temperature ranges food options increase considerably with some form of military or civilian-equivalent MRE being well suited to the task.
Something to consider if you’re building emergency kits or bug-out bags.