Do You Know Nutrition: Deciphering UPC codes

By Phylis Canion
March 12, 2013 at midnight
Updated March 11, 2013 at 10:12 p.m.

I am a label reader, but I cannot find anywhere on a label where the food originated from. I am a bit weary of consuming foods from foreign countries, especially China, after the tainted food scare in 2008. Am I missing something on the label?

The bar code on the product indicates the country of origin. The first two or, in some cases, the first three digits listed on a product are referred to as the "flag," and those numbers indicate in what country the bar code was issued. If the bar code on a product begins with any number from 690-695, the product was made in China.

Some countries' bar codes only have two numbers, like the United States and Canada, with codes in the range of 00-13; Japan, 49; UK, 50; Switzerland, 76; and Spain, 84; to name a few.

Other bar codes are Mexico, 750; Taiwan, 471; Singapore, 888; Thailand, 885; and Malaysia, 955.

Currently, the United States and Canada use Universal Product Code bar codes as their standard whereas the rest of the world uses International Article Number (EAN). Since Jan. 1, 2005, all retail scanning systems in the U.S. must be able to accept the EAN symbols as well as the standard UPC.

For a more detailed list of bar codes, visit my website, If you do not find a particular code listed, please contact me. It is also important to know what the bar code, called the Price Look Up code, on fruits and vegetables means.

The stickers on fruits and vegetables contain different PLU codes and reveal if they are conventionally grown, organically grown or genetically modified. The PLU codes for conventionally grown fruit consist of four numbers and organically grown have five numbers, beginning with the number nine. Genetically modified products begin with the number eight.

Unfortunately, there is no bar code that will indicate if a fruit or vegetable is a hybrid. Hybrids are products that have been altered by humans. A fruit is technically defined as having a seed. Hybrids are usually identified as a fruit that is seedless (i.e grapes, watermelons, etc.).

Hybrid fruits contain more sugar, which stresses the pancreas more than regular fruit and has less nutrition value than seeded, unaltered varieties. Although there are also seeded hybrid varieties such as some tomatoes, avoiding seedless fruits is one of the more prominent ways to avoid hybrid fruits. Thank you for reading your labels.

Thought for the week: Be yourself - everyone else is taken!

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, email her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.



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