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How to translate barcodes

Updated February 21, 2017

Barcodes are black symbols printed on products or items representing data that can be scanned by an optical device in order to facilitate accounting, tracking or inventory keeping. It can contain many forms of data and are used worldwide, but the UPC (Universal Product Code) barcode is the most accepted and widely used. UPC barcodes are used by commercial establishments, particularly those in the manufacturing, retail and supermarket industries. We encounter UPC barcodes most of the time, but the symbols and numbers we see always seem to be a mystery. Learn to translate barcodes and never be puzzled by these symbols again.

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  1. Look at the barcode, particularly the 12 digit UPC numbers below the black vertical lines. Write down the numbers in a piece of paper. Open your Internet browser and visit a UPC website (see Resources) to view a chart showing the different countries and their equivalent number (often referred to as flag numbers). Match the first two to three digits on the barcode number with the flag number on the list and you will find out the product's implied country of origin. The list merely shows the country where the GS1 application was made, but not necessarily the country where the item was manufactured.

  2. Look at the barcode number and write down the first six digits, remove the flag numbers from the group and the remaining numbers will be the manufacturer's global identification number. The flag numbers and the manufacturer's identification number comprise the first six digits of the barcode number and are issued by GS1, which is an international non-profit association that monitors and manages UPC barcodes.

  3. Look at the barcode and write down the 7th up to the 11th digits. These digits are the unique product code assigned by the manufacturer to its product. It identifies the product separately from other products of the manufacturer. The 12th and last digit is the check digit which makes sure the bar code is correctly composed.

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About the Author

Raul Avenir has been writing for various websites since 2009, authoring numerous articles concentrated on business and technology. He is a technically inclined businessman experienced in construction and real estate development. Aside from being an accountant, Avenir is also a business consultant. He graduated with a degree of Bachelor of Science in business administration.

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