Friday, December 05, 2008

URBAN MYTH: Barcodes reveal country of origin

I'm not sure why anyone would promulgate something as complex, yet incorrect, as a guide to deciphering a UPC code to determine which country the food came from. Nevertheless, an email has been circulating among concerned shoppers, along these lines:

Fw: China and Taiwan bar codes

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 (sic) 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.

The email is misleading, for two reasons (thanks to David Emery):

  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.