Do Barcodes Tell You a Product’s Country of Origin? hands globe world earth

Do Barcodes Tell You a Product’s Country of Origin?

When was the last time you looked at your newsfeed and didn’t see an article talking about a product recall?

Over the past few years, our news has been filled with stories about product recalls. From food recalls because of salmonella and listeria to the infamous Takata Corporation airbag recalls, the issue is continuously prevalent.

And as a result, industries like food and beverage, automotive manufacturing, and healthcare are more focused on traceability initiatives and programs than ever before.

The issue comes down to being able to track an item throughout its product journey, from its place and country of origin to where it ultimately ends up.

Both 1D and 2D barcodes are key parts of traceability initiatives. When paired with the right barcode scanning systems, software, and validation/verification solutions, they can be used to track items throughout the destination.

But do barcodes tell you a product’s country of origin just within their digits?

Barcodes & A Product’s Country of Origin: A 11-Year Misconception

This is a common misconception that’s been around for almost 11 years now – since 2008, to be exact.

Everything started when viral message was sent via email on November 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.

Besides the numerous spelling and grammatical errors, this message is filled with other erroneous and incorrect information.

Let’s break this down a bit.

UPC Barcodes, EAN-13 Barcodes, and Countries of Origin

Barcodes certainly contain a great degree of information. For instance, if you look at a traditional UPC barcode, the 19-digit number will tell you:

  • The type of barcode the scanner has read
  • Who the product manufacturer is
  • The exact product it is

This information doesn’t include the product’s country of origin.

Then there are EAN-13 (European Article Numbering) barcodes, 13-digit barcodes which are used globally. Unlike UPC barcodes, EAN-13 barcodes do contain identifiers for a product’s country of origin.

But it can be more complicated than that.

As writer David Emery explains in a ThoughtCo article, the digits that EAN-13 barcodes use to denote a product’s country of origin correlate to where the barcode was assigned as opposed to made or produced.

“So, for example, a product manufactured in China and sold in France could have an EAN-13 barcode identifying it as a ‘French’ product even though it originated in China,” Emery writes.

Snopes.com’s founder and CEO David Mikkelson goes more in depth about this topic when he states:

“For example, if a Mexican company imported fruit from Guatemala, then packed and shipped that fruit to Belgium, the country code portion of the final product’s bar code would likely indicate an origin of Mexico rather than Guatemala. In that case the bar coding would be of little help to consumers who (for whatever reason) were desirous of avoiding food products grown in Guatemala.”

Conclusion

While yes, it is true that barcodes can be used for traceability initiatives across a global supply chain, the digits mentioned in the misleading November 2008 email do not signify the product’s exact country of origin.

Instead, there’s a need for true traceability programs, which are far more complicated, intricate, and rely on various programs, systems, protocols, and stakeholders worldwide.

Further Reading

Are you curious to know more about traceability programs and how we can help? Check out these past articles which dive more into this topic:


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