UPC barcode made in America myth is false

Can you tell if an item is Made in USA from the UPC barcode?

The UPC barcode myth for Country of Origin

Can you tell if an item is Made in USA from the UPC barcode?

No. It is FALSE that you can see where a product was manufactured from the barcode.

We’ll show you why it is false below. 

The text of the false (very popular) meme is: “Pick up a product. Look at the barcode. If the first 3 numbers are 690 or 691 or 692, the product was made in China.”

UPC barcode made in America myth is false

Origins of the myth are based in some truth.

People have passed this around the internet because the top two companies that sell bar codes have loose meaning to those numbers (explained below).

GS1 and National barcode are two large companies that sell barcodes to brands and GS1 barcodes assign a “company prefix” with the first 3 numbers.

Many people will even link to a page on GS1 that shows these country codes. However, the codes do not represent the country of origin. As you will see below, the company is very clear about this. The webpage itself explains this at the top of the page, but people sharing the link clearly skip over the line on that page that reads: “Company prefixes are based on the GS1 prefixes below. Note that since GS1 member companies can manufacture products anywhere in the world, GS1 prefixes do not identify the country of origin for a given product.”

Understanding GS1 & Nationwide Barcode:

Barcodes are not created by each individual company making a product. There are large companies that do this in an organized manner and having a better understanding of how those companies assign barcodes can better explain why this myth about recognizing Country of Origin from a barcode prefix began.

Who is GS1?

An organization that sells licenses for a 3 digit prefix on a barcode in order to help sellers (Walmart, Target, etc).

The prefixes ARE assigned to certain countries, but this does NOT mean the product is made there. GS1 allows their member companies to manufacture their products anywhere in the world. For the purposes of trying to discover where a product is made, the bar code will not help.

For GS1, the prefix country code only means that the brand or organization that requested the code, was headquartered or had an office in that country at the time they started working with GS1 – NOT that they make the individual product you are looking at in that country.

Who is Nationwide barcode:

Nationwide Barcode is another organization that sells both EAN and UPC barcodes. They have also confirmed that the product number prefix does not indicate the country a product was made in.

An article from Nationwide barcode says, “Whether you purchase a barcode prefix from the GS1 or purchase a barcode from a company like Nationwide Barcode, the barcode will indicate the country where the prefix originated, regardless of where that company has their products manufactured,”

Visual explanation of how false the UPC code idea is:

Let’s prove this out with some quick photos of UPC codes of some top brands of greeting cards.

UPC made in usa myth visual

As you will see in the Carlton card photo that one card is Made in China and another card is Made in USA, yet both cards have the same first 3 on the UPC code.

2 replies
  1. Bonnie Helminski
    Bonnie Helminski says:

    What about products that are made in the USA, but said company is owned by China or some other foreign company?

  2. Gary McCord
    Gary McCord says:

    I wanted to purchase a propane heater for my home. I wanted one made in the USA or at least not china. I searched on the internet and found one, (Mr Heater), that claimed to be made in Cleveland Ohio. Knowing that the internet was not totally reliable I called Mr. Heaters corporate headquarters in Cleveland Ohio and got a human on the phone. I asked them about the product I was wanting to purchase and they REASSURED me, (person on the phone from corporate headquarters), that the item was in fact manufactured in Cleveland Ohio. So I ordered it from a dealer online. When I received my two 30,000 BTU propane heaters made by Mr. Heater the back of the box down in the right corner below the bar code said, “MADE IN CHINA”. Buyer be ware!


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