Country of Origin of Foods

Reusable Grocery Bag

Reusable Grocery Bag

by Catherine Haug, Nov 5, 2013 (photo, right, from This Domestic Life blog)

Do you ever wonder about where a particular item of food came from – which country? For example, after all the bad news about contaminated food from China, people became more aware of how important it is to know where the food you eat was grown, raised or processed.

I recently learned of a correlation between the UPC code (part of the bar code on food) and the country-of-origina, and was excited to share that with our readers. Unfortunately, as I delved into my research on this topic, I learned that there is inconsistency in this correlation – that you can’t count on the code actually telling you where the food came from, only which country issued the code – the food using the code may have actually came from a different country.

On lack of consistent correlation between UPC and Country of Origin

The best explanation of this problem is on the Snopes website: Determining Product Origins by Bar Code. The following sites all agree that there is no uniform consistency in correlation between UPC code and country-of-rigin of the food:

The following is a quote from GS1 – The Global Language of Business, where all legal UPC and EAN numbers (including the ones we sell) originate:

GS1 Prefixes do not provide identification of country of origin for a given product. They simply provide number capacity to different countries for assignment from that location to companies who apply. Those companies in turn may manufacture products anywhere in the world.*”

Is there a better way to identify Country of Origin for food products?

The answer is surprisingly low-tech, but still not 100% reliable: Look for “Made in [Country Name]” on the label. The FTC and US Customs govern the rules concerning this information. From the UPC Bar Code Country Code site:

“While not 100% reliable, the best way of identifying the origin of a product remains the “Made in [country name]”” printed on the product. Both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Customs Service, now called US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), govern the rules by which manufacturers must label their products as “Made in [country name]”.

These rules and special applicable laws are quite complex and vary across industries. If you care to explore them in detail, there is a good write-up (if slightly aged) published by the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection here.”

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