Even if you take a look at the ingredients and food facts you probably don’t glance at the product code.
And why would you?
If you don’t know what to look for, bar codes can be just as confusing as some of the chemical ingredients that go into making processed foods.
But product codes don’t just give information on how much a product costs or what company produced it, it can also indicate the country of origin of dried, canned, jarred, and prepared food goods.
The first two to three digits of the Universal Product Code (UPC) indicate where a product was produced and packaged.
By knowing how to read this valuable information, you can avoid fake products from China or other countries with questionable standards.
Here’s a quick guide to finding out where your food was produced:
- 00 – 13: USA & Canada
- 754 – 755: Canada
- 690 – 699: China
- 30 – 37: France
- 40 – 44: Germany
- 45 & 49: Japan
- 50: UK
- 57: Denmark, Faroe islands, and Greenland
- 64: Finland
- 76: Switzerland and Liechtenstein
- 471: Taiwan
- 480: Philippines
- 628: Saudi Arabia
- 629: United Arab Emirates
- 740 – 746: Central America
You can find a complete list of these codes here.
Codes can Only Say so Much
Unfortunately, this method isn’t always so clear-cut. The codes mentioned above are used “by European Article Number (EAN-13) bar code standard, …[but not necessarily] the UPC-A bar which is most commonly used in the U.S.” (1).
Another major problem is that if a company used ingredients imported from all over the world but they produce the product elsewhere, only the country where the product is made will be listed on the product code. For example, if a juice company in the United States used apples from South America and Europe but the juice is produced in an American factory, the product code will list the country of origin as the United States.
However, the label will most likely list the country of origin of the ingredients used in the product if they all come from the same country. For example, if you buy coconut water, the label might say “product of Thailand” or the label on tomato sauce may say “Made in the United States from Italian ingredients”.
If there’s no information on the label, doing a quick search online may give you a clue about how and where the product is made.