Fact Check

Can You Determine a Product's Country of Origin by Its Bar Code?

Finding out where a given product was manufactured is not so simple as looking at its bar code.

Published Oct 27, 2008

The first three digits of a bar code indicate a product's country of origin.

In the wake of 2008 product scares involving melamine-tainted pet foods, lead-tainted toys, and melamine-tainted milk products, all originating in China, consumers in the U.S. understandably became more apprehensive about the places of origin of the products they were purchasing. However, consumers often found themselves frustrated in their efforts to be more selective buyers because many products are not labeled in ways that clearly indicate their point of origin.

A popular online item of the time was a reflection of those fears, a message that purportedly provided simple, helpful instructions for determining the country of origin of any product:

If the origin of what you buy is important to you, may I suggest that you write down on a card (the size of your credit card) and keep in your wallet, the following information.

Since no one is willing to share this information , I'm grateful for the person who dug it up, and passed it along. If we don't write it down and keep it, the information will simply blow through our brains, doing NO good.

Up to YOU:

The whole world is concerned about China made 'black hearted goods'. Can you differentiate which one is made in Canada, Philippines, Taiwan or China?

The first 3 digits of the barcode is the country code wherein the product was made.

Sample: All barcodes that start at 690 - 695 are all MADE IN CHINA. 471 is Made in Taiwan

Government and related departments won't educate the public. Therefore, we have to educate 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 are: 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 ~ Taiwan
480 ~ Philippines
628 ~ Saudi-Arabien
629 ~ United Arab Emirates
690 ~ 695 China
740 ~ 745 Central America

Please spread this to everyone

According to this tip, a glance at the first three digits of a product's bar code will tell you where it was made. Unfortunately, determination of product origins for American consumers isn't quite as cut and dried as it's been made to sound here.

First of all, the two- or three-digit country codes referenced above are incorporated into the European Article Number (EAN-13) bar code standard, but not into the UPC-A bar code which is most commonly used in the U.S. Moreover, what those EAN-13 country codes indicate is the country or economic region where a particular bar code was assigned, not necessarily the country where the product identified by that bar code was made:

Q: Does the EAN number indicate the country of origin of a product?

A: No it doesn't. The 3-digit prefix code indicates which numbering organization has allocated the bank of numbers to the company. For example, a company may have its headquarters in South Africa. The EAN organization in South Africa has the code "600," but all the products of the company may be manufactured in England. The English-made products would still have the "600" prefix code. The prefix code is a way to have 70-plus EAN member organizations issuing numbers without having to worry about duplicate numbers.

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.

It may be the case that in some parts of the world there is a fair degree of correlation between assignment of bar codes and product origins (i.e., in some countries the preponderance of bar code assignments may apply to domestic products), but for surefire product origin identification consumers must rely upon other methods. In determining the country of origin of a product sold in the U.S., consumers often still have to rely on the standard method of looking for "Made in [country name]" labels on the packaging.


Robinson, Ryan.   "Food-Safety Bill Plants Some Concerns."     Lancaster New Era.   24 March 2009.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.