Do Barcodes Tell You Where the Product Comes From?

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Barcode Source: Google Images

The main problem is that you have to be able to track the product throughout its journey in production – from its origin to the country in which it ultimately lands. Which can be tricky business but luckily both the 1 dimensional and 2 dimensional product barcodes play a key role in the initiative to trace products along their production journey. When the correct barcode is teamed up with the correct barcode scanner and scanning software, and the correct verification resolutions, they can be implemented to keep track of the production throughout the supply chain.

So, with all this in mind, can you tell a product’s country of origin by their digits?

One method of determining the country of origin of an individual product has been used for years, and it is all based on the barcode label. On every manufactured product, the prefix of the barcode can (sometimes) reveal the answer. Certainly, UPC codes and EAN codes contain a variety of information, for example, the original UPC code in its 19-digit form can tell you who the product was manufactured by, precisely what product it is and the kind of scanner that will be needed for that specific product. However, what this information does not tell you is the products country of origin.

The UPC code can be distinguished from the alternative barcode known as the European Article Number, or the EAN code. This barcode has 13 digits and is the most commonly used form of the barcode for retail purposes globally, and does comprise an identifier for the country of origin of the product. This identifier can be found in the first 3 digits of the code, which are known as the manufacturing code and specify which EAN numbering official allotted a certain sequence of numbers. However, this does not necessarily mean that you as a consumer can always rely on that information without a second thought! Sometimes part of the code that acts as the country identifier actually identifies the country for which the product was intended to be sent to, and not the country in which the product was manufactured. In other words, the prefix of the barcode is more likely to indicate the country in which the particular barcode was allocated and not necessarily the country in which the product itself was made.

A practical example is as follows; in South Africa, barcodes are supplied to manufacturers and can contain a 600 or 601 prefix (if bought directly from GS1). But if this supplier was a company who imported products from China and was then adhering different barcodes on the products themselves here in South Africa – the product would seem to have come from or been manufactured here in South Africa, when in fact they are from China. So now you see where all the confusion comes from!

Armed with all this new information, you might be asking yourself; “how then do I know where a product is actually from?”. It might seem difficult to get a straight answer, but of course modern technology has you covered here. One of the most revolutionary inventions when it comes to this is an app that is very appropriately named “Boycott”. This app contains records of hoards of information about different consumer items, like their country of origin, where they were manufactured, even the relevant nutritional information if you need it! What is even more incredible is that all this information can be accessed simply by scanning the product barcode on your phone. Thank goodness for technology!

What can we deduce from this? Well, in essence a barcode is just a number. Yes, it is a very important and useful number but this importance and use is only that which is given to it when you register a barcode. Never be hoodwinked into thinking that it will divulge all the information about the product you are buying and always remain informed.