Free From

New to our stores in 2020 are Nutrition Pathways. Nutrition Pathways are the icons printed on the shelf tags in-store and can be found when shopping online via the Fastlane at  Due to limited space, up to four pathways can be printed on the shelf tags in-store, but all pathways that a product qualifies for can be found on Fastlane.

Nutrition Pathways highlight the most nutritious foods as well as popular lifestyle choices throughout our store.  Whether managing a health condition, following a food lifestyle, or just wanting to make healthier choices, we will help you find the better-for-you and lifestyle items that you are looking for.

The next Nutrition Pathway we are excited to highlight is Free From. Products in from the Free From pathway do not contain ingredients known to contain any of the 8 major allergens which includes: milk (dairy), eggs, shellfish, fish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy. Foods in the free from category are also free of partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, antibiotics, added hormones, pesticides, and nitrates.  A food must be free from all of these in order to be part of the pathway.  

Free From pathway icon graphic
The 8 major allergens account for most food allergies. While these allergens need to be avoided for those who are allergic, if you are not allergic, avoiding these foods may not result in improved health. Many of the 8 common allergens are healthy foods such as nuts, fish, and yogurt.  

Exploring beyond just the 8 major allergens, we included the requirement to be free from high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils in this pathway since many consumers look for products without these ingredients. With regard to health, partially hydrogenated oils are trans fats and when consumed in excess may adversely affect health.  High fructose corn syrup is a type of sugar used in the food supply and, also when consumed in excess, may have negative effects on health.  

All foods, specifically meat and animal products, are technically free of antibiotics at the time of consumption. Antibiotics are used when raising animals, just like how doctors treat our children when they have bacterial infections. In farming, withdrawal periods are enforced, where the animal’s body clears the antibiotic(s) so it is not passed off into the food. For example, if a dairy cow gets sick, she is moved to a separate barn and is given antibiotics per an attending veterinarian. While taking the antibiotic and for the specified time period after, that dairy cow’s milk is thrown away and not used. The United States Department of Agriculture randomly tests animal products to ensure there are not any antibiotics or antibiotic residue present in foods. There are monetary fines and penalties for farmers who are found to have contaminated the food supply with antibiotics, so farmers do their absolute best to ensure they follow the rules and do not contaminate the food supply.  

Hormones may sound scary, but any living creature has hormones, including plants!  Hormones are naturally occurring in both plant-based food and animal products.  Hormones are never maliciously added to foods, but animals can be treated with hormones on the farm. For example, male cattle are neutered to help reduce their aggression. However, since they were neutered, their bodies may produce less testosterone which affects growth and development, so testosterone is often administered so the cattle will develop as intended.  Another example is bananas; we treat bananas with the hormone, ethylene, to increase ripening so they will turn that perfect yellow, ready to be eaten.   The amount of hormones consumed through foods is low compared to the amount of hormones our bodies naturally make. Hormones are unavoidable in foods since they are part of every living, growing animal and plant.  

You may notice that even though meats and dairy foods are free of antibiotics, very few options will be part of the Free From pathway.  If there was a chance that the animal was treated with antibiotics on the farm, and even though it is not passed off into the food, these meat and dairy foods are still excluded.  

Pesticides are used in both conventional and organic plant farming. It is a misconception that pesticides are not used in organic farming; the pesticides are just different than those used in conventional farming and are not necessarily safer or better for the environment!  Foods sold in United States supermarkets contain well below the detectable limit of pesticide residue.  Always rinse your fresh produce under cool water to remove any pesticide residue. You can also use a brush to wash the skins of rougher fruits and veggies.  Foods grown with pesticides are just as nutritious as those without. Feel confident in selecting a variety of nutritious foods when at the store.

You may also notice not many fruits, veggies, and grains, are part of the Free From pathway and similarly to the example above with animal products, if there is any chance that the food item was treated with pesticides, it is excluded from the Free From pathway.  

Nitrates are naturally occurring in vegetables such as celery and even in our body’s saliva and gastrointestinal tract which helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria to keep us healthy.  Nitrates are commonly added to processed meats as a preservative, to prevent bacterial growth, and to prevent color changes due to exposure to oxygen.  Nitrates can become harmful when in the presence of amino acids/protein foods, such as processed meats, AND heated to high temperatures. If concerned, choose nitrate free processed meats or avoid cooking at high temperatures.  Items in the Free From pathway are free of added nitrates.  

Shop in-store and on Fastlane for Free From foods.  

Please note, some foods may be Free From, but are not part of the pathway yet since the manufacturer has not provided the ingredient list and product data to be analyzed.  This can happen with any pathway since we must rely on the food companies to submit their product information in order to be considered for pathways.  Please be patient with us as we educate food companies and gather all product information.  Additionally, if a manufacturer changes the recipe or reformulates a food, they have been instructed to submit updated product information.  The foods within the Nutrition Pathways are to the best of our knowledge.

As a partner on your wellness journey, we are here to help! Email our Registered Dietitian at [email protected] with any questions on Nutrition Pathways, Kids Crew, or nutrition & health.  

This medical and/or nutritional information is not intended to be a substitute for individual advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Stephanie Edson Wellness Specialist SpartanNash Company


Stephanie is an award-winning registered dietitian who believes in empowering every individual to make nutritious food choices to support a healthy lifestyle. She believes in the power of food as medicine and loves sharing about nutrition with others.