I got a forwarded email from a reader about figuring out what country a product was made in by looking at the bar code. This email has been circulating the web since 2008 so it might be familiar. Clearly, a lot of folks are still worried about recalls and contaminated products from abroad. Others are trying to buy closer to home to reduce their carbon footprint. The email says:
If you want to know where the food and pet products you are looking at in the stores are coming from, make sure you read labels at the grocery store. Many products no longer show where they were made, only give where the distributor is located. It is important for consumers to read the bar code to track the origin of the product.
How to Read Bar Codes
If the first 3 digits of the bar code are 690, 691 or 692, the product is made in China.
If the first 3 digits of the bar code are 471, the product is made in Taiwan.
If the first digits are 00-09 – it’s made in USA & Canada.
If the first digits are 30-37 – it’s made in France.
If the first digits are 49- it’s made in Japan.
If the first digits are 40-44 – it’s made in Germany.
If the first digits are 50 – it’s made in UK.
But as it turns out, the email is only partly true.
A lot of emails contain kernels of truth that have been exaggerated or glossed over until they become a mix of true and false information, which is what happened with this email about bar codes, according to the myth-busting site Snopes.com.
“The bar code and its cousin, the European Article Number () bar code, incorporate two- or three-digit country codes, but what those country codes indicate is the country or economic region where a particular bar code was , not necessarily the country where the product identified by that bar code originated,” Snopes says.
A product could be manufactured in one country but carry a country of origin code of the company’s headquarters in a different country. So food can be grown in one country (Guatemala, for instance) but because the company importing the food may be located in another country (perhaps Mexico), the UPC code would indicate the product was from Mexico.
Your best bet is look for the “Made in [country name]” label on the food or product packaging.