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Learn About the UPC - Universal Product Code

Almost anything you purchase today will have a UPC code. What does UPC mean? It stands for Universal Product Code. The UPC code was first invented as an easier way for grocery checkers to ring up items and it was also easier to keep inventory. However, it turned out to be such a good system, that now most businesses who sell things use it. The company who develops the UPC codes for new businesses is called Uniform Code Council (UCC). When a business decides they want to use the UPC system, they apply to the UCC for permission. If accepted, they must pay an annual fee for the services of the UCC. The UCC then issues them a manufacturer identification number and training on how to use it. Any UPC symbol you see will have two parts to it: the bar code the machine can read and the 12 digit code humans can read.

Reading the UPC is easy. The first six numbers are the manufacturer’s identification number. The next five numbers are the item number. One person at each business will be designated as the UPC coordinator. It is their job to assign item numbers for each product and keep an inventory of numbers used so the same item number is not used for two different products. They also retire codes when products are no long produced by the business. The UPC coordinator must also assign different numbers to items that are the same, just in different sizes. For example, a single roll of Bounty paper towels must have a different UPC code as a three-roll pack of Bounty paper towels.

The final number in a UPC code is the check digit. This is the number that lets the scanner know if the number has been scanned in correctly. If the number is not scanned correctly, the cashier will have to manually type the UPC code in by hand.