Ukranian Roman Ostriakov was caught in 2011 pocketing €4.07 ($4.72) worth of food in a supermarket in Genoa, after a customer spotted him and reported him to a member of staff, Italian media reported on Tuesday.
He was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to pay a €100 fine.
But the verdict was appealed on grounds that Ostriakov had been stopped before he had actually left the supermarket, and at a second appeal, Italy's court of cassation acquitted him.
It was clear the defendant "could not live without feeding himself, so acted out of necessity," the court said.
The Corriere della Sera daily was quick to point out the irony of a legal system in Italy which saw the theft of goods worth fewer than €5 go through three costly rounds of justice - first instance, appeal and cassation - before being thrown out.