A bar code reader utilizing a two dimensional image capture optical system, includes a method and apparatus for distinguishing a preferred bar code out a plurality of bar codes within the field of view of the bar code reader. The method and apparatus for distinguishing a preferred bar code includes placing a special pattern proximate to the bar code to be distinguished. In one embodiment, a predetermined pattern at a predetermined location and orientation relative to the bar code is placed on a label. The reader includes means for detecting the presence of the predetermined pattern after the bar code has been located. The bar code reader first locates each of the plurality of bar codes, and then checks each located bar code to determine whether the predetermined pattern is present. If the predetermined pattern is detected, then the corresponding located bar code is scanned and decoded as the preferred bar code.