The Vitamix FoodCycler FC-50 is an odorless, easy-to-use, and eco-friendly electric food cycler that reduces food waste and streamlines the process of home composting.
While spending hundreds of dollars to repurpose food may seem steep, those who know they'll benefit from this machine won't hesitate about the cost. The FoodCycler shrinks household food waste to about a tenth of its original volume and produces a nutrient-rich fertilizer (aka foodilizer) for gardening or indoor plants.
In this review, I talk about what the FoodCycler FC-50 is, how it works, what alternatives there are, and whether it's worth the cost.
Vitamix & Food Cycle
Vitamix is not exactly known for food recycling. Its reputation is built on high-quality blenders that deliver superior results.
However, in 2020 Vitamix partnered with a green startup company Food Cycle Science to support and distribute their products. The latest edition of the brand’s flagship product, the FoodCycler FC-50, dries and grinds food waste and turns it into what Vitamix labels a "fertilizer".
Vitamix's goal with this product is to decrease food waste. About a third of food produced worldwide ends up as waste in landfills (1) where it generates methane (CH₄) - a greenhouse gas that warms the atmosphere. Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide (CO2). Even though carbon dioxide has a longer-lasting effect, methane sets the pace for warming in the near term. (2)
The FoodCycler promises to help households capture this portion of the waste stream and shrink it into a garden-ready soil amendment. As Vitamix Marketing Operations Vice President Scott Hackman says, "We conducted an independent study and discovered that there are significant obstacles to composting for many people. We wanted to make a year-round food recycling option available to everyone who is environmentally oriented, including those with limited outdoor space or those living in colder climates. The FoodCycler FC-50 is our answer."
Food Cycler FC-50
The design of the FoodCycler FC-50 is modern and minimal, consistent with the Vitamix brand. The exterior is made from hard plastic with a grey and black finish while the inside bucket is made of porcelain-coated aluminum. The inside (removable) bucket comes with a lid equipped with deodorizing carbon filter to eliminate odors.
The entire unit is small enough to store under the sink or on the kitchen counter. However, at one cubic foot, it's certainly not tiny. If you have a compact kitchen, taking up one cubic foot of your valuable counter space isn't ideal. Personally, I don't keep the entire unit in the kitchen. The removable food-waste collecting bucket with the carbon filter lid sits on my kitchen counter while the recycler unit itself stays in the garage near an electrical outlet.
The Vitamix food cycler features a very simple interface. It has a single power button to start a cycle and four status lights indicating drying, grinding or cooling as well as filter life. The indicator lights turn off once the entire process is done.
There is no need to program the FoodCycler, do any calculations, or use an app. All you have to do is press the start button and the machine does the rest. The FoodCycler has a built-in sensor technology that monitors the dryness and humidity of the food waste. Once complete, the unit stop the cycle automatically.
The food cycler breaks down food waste into a tenth of its original volume and creates a nutrient-rich fertilizer you can add to your soil. There are only two steps you need to perform:
- Collect food waste: the inner collecting bucket holds one to two quarts of food waste, depending on how densely packed the waste is. It generally takes my husband and I about two days to fill the collecting bucket. Vitamix provides a second storage lid specifically to reduce any odors coming from the bin before starting a cycle.
- Run the cycle: once the collecting bucket is full, place it into the FoodCycler, remove the storage lid with the deodorizing carbon filter, secure the processing lid, and press the power button to start the cycle. The FoodCycler uses a three-phase process:
- Drying phase: heating and aeration dehydrates the food waste while the agitator turns slowly to mix and begin breaking down the organic waste, so every inch is sterilized and methane-free. The air is then vented out of the back of the unit and pushed through carbon filters to capture any odors. The drying process is what reduces food waste volume.
- Grinding phase: once the food waste has been reduced in size (by up to 90%), the unit’s internal grinding gears turn the contents. This further breaks down the food waste into small, oftentimes powder-like particles which can be easily mixed in with soil.
- Cooling phase: cooling is the shortest part of the cycle and ensures that the removable bucket and the foodilizer are safe to handle. This phase also continues the aeration and dehumidifying of the previous phases.
Vitamix says that most cycles take between four to eight hours, depending on the amount and type of food scraps. The cycles I run take a maximum of four hours to complete, depending on how full the bucket is and what scraps it contains.
A full half-gallon bin of food scraps yields about a cup of fertilizer.
Price & Warranty
The biggest drawback of an electric composter is the cost, both upfront and recurring. The Vitamix FoodCycler is priced at $399 and requires replacement filters. One replacement pack with two filters costs $25 (the filters needs to be replaced every 3-4 months of regular use or 500 cycle hours). So, this adds up to $75 every year.
Vitamix provides a full three-year warranty including parts, labor, and two-way shipping.
In order to get a good foodilizer, it's important to add a variety of different foods to the FoodCycler waste bucket for each cycle. Vitamix recommends composting a combination of high-fibrous, diverse, ideally whole foods - something that's usually reflective of balanced meals.
The FoodCycler can process:
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Meat, poultry, and fish scraps
- Beans, seeds, and legumes
- Eggs and eggshells
- Chicken and fish bones
- Coffee grounds, filters, and tea bags
The FoodCycler can process in limited quantities:
- Breads, pasta, cakes
- Citrus fruit rinds
- Condiments, sauces, soups
- Nut butters
- Jams & jellies
- High-sugar fruit (bananas, cherries, grapes)
Hard, dense bones (pork, beef, lamb and bison)
- Candy and gum
- Cooking oils and greases
- Hard pits (peaches, apricots, nectarines)
- Nuts and other hard shells
- Pineapple leaves
- Paper products (paper towels)
Foodilizer vs Compost
Electric composters are technically not composters. Rather than acting as a soil composite, the organic fertilizer produced by the machine is a soil amendment.
The Vitamix FoodCycler dries and grinds food waste into a nutrient-rich soil additive. The end product looks more like powdery particles than the black dirt-like product produced through traditional composting led by bacteria. In fact, the fertilizer has no microbial or bacterial qualities like a typical compost. When the food cycler is running, the internal temperature reaches up to 176°F/80°C, which kills weed seeds, plant diseases and most pathogens. That's why the foodilizer is also practically odorless.
Compost is famous for its high bacteria count and its neutral pH. It makes a phenomenal fertilizer and topsoil. Immediately after cycling, food recycler fertilizer is completely sterile (lacking bacteria) and cannot be used as a topsoil.
This might not be ideal for an avid gardener who wants a moist, dense compost to lay on top of their garden. However, the sterile "biomass" is great for those who still want to nourish their garden/indoor plants but don't want to wait months to get a compost, risk messing it up, and/or attract pests.
How to Store the Foodilizer
Once the foodilizer comes out of the unit, it may still have some moisture contained in the fibers. So, allow it to cure for a minimum of one week in an open-air container. This will help the material stabilize completely. After one week, you can close up the fertilizer with a lidded container and store it in a cool, dry place. The foodilizer will last for about one year.
As you continue to run cycles over time, you're going to accumulate more homemade fertilizer. When adding the foodilizer to an existing stockpile, make sure that the cycled material is completely cool and dry. Let the new addition sit on the top of the existing pile, leaving the lid open so the latter can finish airing out completely before closing it up.
How to Use the Foodilizer
The cured fertilizer can be added into soil.
The minimum recommended ratio of by-product to soil is 1:10. If your by-product contains a lot of meat and/or dairy products, the suggested ratio is 1:20. This is not difficult to achieve given how little volume the finished soil amendment takes up.
It's best to mix the foodilizer with soil about 4 weeks prior to planting seeds or transplanting plants. This will allow the by-product to breakdown and bacteria to regenerate in the foodilizer, similarly to the traditional composting process.
Food Cycler Alternatives
If you don't have access to an outdoor compost system and the idea of an electric composter doesn't appeal to you, there are other methods of indoor composting.
Vermicomposting, or worm composting, is the product of earthworm digestion and aerobic decomposition using the activities of micro- and macro-organisms at room temperature. In other words, worms (most commonly red wriggler worms) consume food waste and convert it into a nutrient-rich natural fertilizer.
A vermicompost is a long, shallow bin made from wood or plastic. The interior is composed of shredded “brown” compost material (such as cardboard or paper). The ideal size and number of worms depend on how much food your household generates. Generally speaking, for every pound of food waste you generate, you will need one square foot of space, and two pounds of worms.
There is not a lot to do other than feed the worms and harvest the compost. However, because the worms’ skin needs to be moist to allow them to "breathe", you have to keep an eye on the moisture content in the bin. If it is too dry, the worms will not do their job and can even die. If it’s too wet, the worms can drown and your bin can begin to smell.
We travel for weeks every year, so the worm composter was not an ideal system for us.
Bokashi composting is a low-cost, natural process which reduces and transforms food waste by fermenting organic material into a highly productive compost. Through fermentation, bokashi composting generates garden friendly microbes, yeast, and fungi. These microorganisms are vital building blocks of a healthy and productive soil structure.
Because bokashi requires an anaerobic (no air) environment to succeed, it is more like pickling your food scraps rather than composting them (as composting requires an aerobic environment). This is a huge downside because for composting purposes, it is not a finished product. This means that you need to feed it into another composting system or bury it in the garden before you can use it as compost. On top of that, the product is acidic so you need to take some care not to bury near plant roots, because it is likely to kill your plants pretty quickly.
If you live in a city, you might have access to community composting.
Community composting provides all the benefits of composting but without any work. You're provided with a container where you deposit your organic household and yard waste. Every four weeks, the contents of the container are emptied and delivered to the community compost. In exchange, you receive a 20-L bag of composted soil. If you live in an apartment with minimal or no garden waste, typically 12 to 15 units can share a single container.
Where I live, a yearly subscription (12 pickups) cost CAD $290.
Garbage disposals are widely used across North America. The reality is that more people have access to a garbage disposal system than have a way to compost their food scraps.
Although utilizing the garbage disposal for food scraps does have certain advantages, it also has its drawbacks. Over time, significant amounts of energy and water are required to operate the in-sink system. The use of a garbage disposal also puts an increased strain on existing water pipes and infrastructure due to food waste clogs. Finally, once the food particles reach their final destination, not all wastewater facilities engage in capturing methane, so some garbage disposals still lead to solids that end up in landfills.
Is the Food Cycler Worth It?
There are a lot of obstacles associated with traditional compost systems. Even non-traditional composting systems have their disadvantages, particularly if you want to travel for weeks or months every year.
This is where electric food recyclers come in. By heating and aerating food waste to a high degree, electric food recyclers speed up the decomposition process faster than any other composting alternative. They also require the least amount of space and oversight. We have had our food recycler FC-50 for over a year now and other than changing the filters from time to time, we have not had to do any maintenance.
That being said, if you have the space, time, physical mobility and inclination to go outdoors and turn a compost pile, absolutely do it. Why pay for an appliance when you can do it for free?
Q&A for Vitamix Buyers
What's the difference between the FoodCycler FC-30 vs FoodCycler FC-50?
Vitamix used to sell the FoodCycler FC-30 as well as the FoodCycler FC-50 in the past. However, the FoodCycler FC-50 eventually replaced the FoodCycler FC-30. The Vitamix FC-50 uses the same technology as the FC-30, but includes several notable upgrades including a deodorizing bucket lid (for odorless storage), a new Vitamix-branded color scheme, and a 3-year warranty.
How much electricity does the Food Cycler use?
Vitamix specifies that that each cycle consumes approximately 0.8 kWh. This is roughly equivalent to having a desktop computer running for the same amount of time as the cycle. Dependent on where you live, each cycle should not cost you more than a couple of cents.
What happens to the methane gas during the decomposition process?
Due to the aerobic digestion process, there are no methane gasses created during the process. Any methane emissions that are generated during the natural decomposition process are cycled out due to aeration and pulverization, mimicking a traditional compost pile.
How much food waste can the Food Cycler process at one time?
The unit has a 2.5-liter bucket capacity.
Is the Food Cycler noisy?
The FoodCycler does make noise as it works, but it isn't any louder than a standard dishwasher.
Is the removable food-waste bucket dishwasher safe?
Yes, it is. I typically just hand-wash the bucket with warm soapy water, but you can put it in the dishwasher. For an all-natural clean, try cycling citrus peels by themselves. This will also help eliminate any trapped odors in the unit's ventilation system.
Can I recycle old filters?
Yes, you can! The filters are made of PP5 plastic and can be recycled after use in most townships/municipalities. To recycle the carbon filter, prise off the top of the filters and empty the carbon into either your garbage or garden (the material is actually a wonderful additive to your soil), then rinse the inside of the filters.
Where can I buy replacement filters for the FoodCycler FC-50?
You can find the replacement filters on Vitamix website. They come in packs of two.
Can I purchase a replacement bucket/storage lid for the FoodCycler FC-50?
If you lost or somehow damaged the inner bucket/storage lid for your FoodCycler, you can purchase a new one on Vitamix website.