UCC standards are designed to simplify the process of shipping goods between countries. These standards include very specific rules for labeling products and shipping containers and communicating information related to business transactions.

UCC Standards Basics

The international standards of the EAN.UCC System provide guidelines for labeling products and putting shipping containers into the correct order. The UCC, or Uniform Code Council, also includes rules for using a bar code to communicate business data, such as:

  • Product expiration dates.
  • Lot numbers.
  • Purchase order numbers.

The food industry has used the UCC system for more than two decades, but these standards apply to multiple industries, including retail. Originally, the purpose of these standards was to ease communications between distributors and manufacturers of electrical products, but today, thousands of manufacturers in the United States use this numbering system.

The goal of using UCC standards is to make it easier for trade partners to communicate during a transaction. In addition to identifying products, you can use these rules to indicate how much of a product is in a shipping container or package.

UPC Codes

Under the UCC, manufacturers must assign a 12-digit reference number, known as either a UCC-12 Identification Number or UPC (Universal Product Code) number, to individual units meant for consumers. In addition to identifying individual products, UPCs also serve as a base form of identification for shipping containers. UCC-12 identification numbers cannot include letters when identifying a product or a shipping carton and will differ from manufacturer to manufacturer.

The UCC assigns every manufacturer unique prefix digits to be placed at the beginning of their item reference numbers. Currently, the UCC has issued 200,000 prefix numbers. The item reference number always comes after the UCC prefix, and the length of the reference number depends on the prefix number to which it is attached.

UCC-12 numbers also include a calculated check digit that comes after the item reference number. The purpose of check digits is to prevent transportation problems. There is a special type of UCC-12 number called the UPC-E, which has eight digits instead of 12. Companies whose UCC prefix number begins with zero can use this shortened reference number.

Carton Serial Numbers

UCC standards also provide a guideline for serializing shipping containers. Serial Shipper Container Codes (SSCC) make it possible to track the contents of a shipping container like an individual purchase order. Codes used to serialize shipping containers must be 18 digits long and should follow the UCC/EAN-128 format. Usually, this number is not applied to a container until it is ready to ship, and in some cases, this number may be included with the item reference number.

Using SSCCs is important because it makes identifying the products contained in a shipping carton much easier. This is especially true when the amount of a product varies from container to container or when one container contains multiple products. Electronic Data Interchange transactions also use SSCC numbers as a reference. By using SSCCs along with Electronic Date Interchange transactions, there is no need to check every container's contents, which improves productivity for shipping warehouses.

SSCCs differ from UCC-14 numbers, which are used for intermediate packages as well as shipping cartons that contain individual consumer units. A unique SSCC is assigned to a shipping container when it is ready to ship, whereas the same UCC-14 number will be used for packages of product.

Other Information in Barcodes

The main purpose of UCC standards to simplify product identification and shipping container serialization. These standards, however, also provide a solution for communicating important business data using a bar code, including:

  1. Batch numbers.
  2. Expiration dates.
  3. Destination zip codes.
  4. Lot numbers.
  5. Production dates.
  6. Production order numbers.

Bar codes should follow the UCC/EAN-128 format and must include an Application Identifier (AI), which is a prefix number that indicates what type of information the barcode contains. For instance, if the AI code is 00, it means that the bar code includes a shipping carton code. If a purchase order number is included in the bar code, the AI prefix would be 400. The AI makes it easier for a computer to read the barcode and organize the information that the code contains.

If you need help with UCC standards, you can post your legal needs on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.