Hoaxes & Rumors

Can You Tell a Product’s Origin From its Bar Code?

Can You Tell a Product’s Origin From its Bar Code?

A popular myth claims that you can easily identify the origin of any product by merely looking at the first three digits of its bar code. Is there any truth to this rumor?

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It’s mostly untrue.

Let’s first take a look at the rumor which has been circulating for several years:

HOW TO READ BAR CODES…(everyone must know)


With all the food and pet products now coming from China, it is best to make sure you read label at the supermarket and especially when buying food products. Many products no longer show where they were made, only give where the distributor is located. The whole world is concerned about China-made “black-hearted goods”. Can you differentiate which one is made in Taiwan or China? The world is also concerned about GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) foods; steroid fed animals (ex: 45 days old
broiler chicken). It is important to read the bar code to track its origin. How to read Bar Codes….interesting ! If the first 3 digits of the bar code are 690, 691 or 692, the product is MADE IN CHINA. 471 is Made in Taiwan . If the first 3 digits of the bar code are 00-09 then it’s made or sourced in USA. This is our right to know, but the government and related departments 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 bar code – remember if the first 3 digits are:

690, 691, 692 … then it is MADE IN CHINA
00 – 09 … USA and CANADA
30 – 37 … FRANCE
40 – 44 … GERMANY
471 …….. Taiwan
49 ………. JAPAN
50 ………. UK

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A bar code’s prefix represents the country in which the issuer of the bar code originated and does not necessarily correlate with the product in the packaging. According to GS1, the organization from which all UPC bar codes originate: “This does not mean that the product was manufactured in a specific country or by a specific manufacturer, it may have been produced anywhere in the world.”

You can’t tell where a product was manufactured by looking at the bar code.

A bar code’s prefix only allows you to determine where the GS1 member organization who issued it is located. The contents of the packaging have no direct correlation to the issuer of the bar code.

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The best way to see where a product originated is to examine the packaging. Import laws in the U.S. requires any product manufactured outside of the country to clearly state its origin. This means that even if  the bar code rumor above were true, it would still be easier to just look for “Made in China” than to memorize a list of 3-digit country codes.

Nationwide Barcode posted a response to the rumor above, stating that “the barcode will indicate the country where the prefix originated regardless of where that company has their products manufactured.”

There are, of course, examples where products are manufactured in the same country as the origin of the bar code. This may be seen to a higher degree in areas of the world where domestic production is prominent. Even in such cases, the only way to know for sure where a product is made is by looking at the packaging.

Bottom Line

The helpful – but misguided – hint that the first three digits of a bar code indicate the country where a product is manufactured is false. That prefix indicates the origin of the issuer, and is completely unrelated to the contents of the packaging. In the U.S., strict laws require the indication of products manufactured outside of the country, and this is a much more reliable method of determining a product’s origin.

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