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Do Bar Codes Reveal Where a Product Is Made?

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Warehouse worker using electronic barcode reader, close-up of hand
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Forwarded email claims potentially hazardous products made in China can be identified by examining the first three digits of the bar code on the packaging, which supposedly indicate the country of origin.

Description: Forwarded email
Circulating since: Oct. 2008
Status: Mixed / Misleading (see details below)

Example #1:
Email contributed by Paula G., Nov. 8, 2008:

Made in China barcodes

THIS IS GOOD TO KNOW!!!

The whole world is scared of China made 'black hearted goods'. Can you differentiate which one is made in the USA , Philippines , Taiwan or China ? Let me tell you how... the first 3 digits of the barcode is the country code wherein the product was made.

Sample all barcodes that start with 690.691.692 until 695 are all MADE IN CHINA.

This is our human right to know, but the government and related department never educate the public, therefore we have to RESCUE ourselves.

Nowadays, Chinese businessmen know that consumers do not prefer products 'made in china', so they don't show from which country it is made.

However, you may now refer to the barcode, remember if the first 3 digits is 690-695 then it is Made in China .

00 ~ 13 USA & CANADA
30 ~ 37 FRANCE
40 ~ 44 GERMANY
49 ~ JAPAN
50 ~ UK
57 ~ Denmark
64 ~ Finland
76 ~ Switzerland and Lienchtenstein
471 is Made in Taiwan (see sample below)
628 ~ Saudi-Arabien
629 ~ United Arab Emirates
740 ~ 745 - Central America

All 480 Codes are Made in the Philippines.

Please inform your family and friends for them to be aware.



Example #2:
Email contributed by Joanne F., Oct. 2, 2008:

Fw: China and Taiwan bar codes

FYI - Originated in Taiwan because of the milk scare. However, some items may be deceiving because they are packaged in the U.S. but made in China (or raw materials come from there). They will have a US UPC code. If you can read Chinese, the chart below lists the countries associated with the UPC codes. The U.S. UPC code starts with 0.

Dear Friends,

If you want to avoid buying China imported food... you will need to know how to read the bar code on the products to see where they are actually coming from...

If the bar code starts from : 690 or 691 or 692 they are from China
If the bar code starts from : 471 they are from Taiwan
If the bar code starts from : 45 or 49 they are from Japan
If the bar code starts from : 489 they are from Hong Kong

Please be aware that the Melamine case is expanding, not only some of the mike contains Melamine, even some candy and chocolate are no good to eat now... even melamine is use in ham and hamburgers or some vegetarian food. Please do beware at this moment for your own health.



Analysis: The information above is misleading and unreliable, on two counts:

  1. There's more than one kind of bar code in use around the world. UPC bar codes, the type most commonly used in the United States, do not typically contain a country identifier. A different type of bar code known as EAN-13 does contain a country identifier, but it's more commonly used in Europe and other countries outside the U.S.
  2. Even in the case of EAN-13 bar codes, the digits associated with country of origin don't necessarily specify where the product was manufactured, but rather where the bar code itself was registered. So, for example, a product manufactured in China and sold in France could have an EAN-13 bar code identifying it as a "French" product.

Looking for a "Made in XYZ" label is generally more helpful, but, particularly with regard to foods and beverages, there's no sure-fire way to determine in every case where a product or its components originated. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration mandates country-of-origin labeling on many food products, but there are exceptions, most notably the entire category of "processed foods." Consumer groups are currently advocating the closure of these loopholes.


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Sources and further reading:

EAN Identification for Retail/Trade Items
GS1 Singapore Number Council

A Closer Look at EAN-13
Barcode.com, 28 August 2008

Design and Technology of Packaging Decoration for the Consumer Market
By Geoff A. Giles, CRC Press, 2000

Universal Product Code (UPC) and EAN Article Numbering Code (EAN)
BarCode 1, 7 April 2008

How UPC Bar Codes Work
HowStuffWorks.com

At Long Last, Food Labeling Law Set to Take Effect
MSNBC, 30 September 2008


Last updated: 11/13/08

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