Low energy consumption
Needs to be plugged in
Doesn't technically compost
We purchased the Vitamix FoodCycler FC-50 so our reviewer could put it to the test in his kitchen. Keep reading for our full product review.
Food Cycle Science is a green startup company founded in 2011 around the concept of a food waste-reducing appliance. In 2020, the brand partnered with blender giant Vitamix to distribute and support its products. The latest edition of the brand’s flagship product, the FoodCycler FC-50, streamlines the messy process of home composting and reduces one’s household waste footprint in much the same way previous editions have.
About a third of food produced worldwide ends up as waste, which produces the greenhouse gas methane in landfills. The FoodCycler promises to help households capture this portion of the waste stream and shrink it into a soil amendment that can be used in gardens or indoor plants.
I’ve been composting for more than 20 years and have used everything from 50-gallon drums to cute little buckets made to appeal to stylish gardeners. I previously tested the FC-30, which preceded the Vitamix partnership and is mostly the same as the FC-50 with a few differences I’ll discuss. The FoodCycler is the only electrical appliance I’ve ever used (or seen for that matter) that attempts to automate the process of breaking down food waste and eliminating odors. To see if the FC-50 delivered on these promises, I put the appliance to work in my home over several weeks. I assessed the FoodCycler’s ease of use, end product, and challenges. Read on for my insights.
Setup: Minor assembly required
The unit comes mostly ready to go. Mine was ready to process food waste about 10 minutes after unboxing. There are no tools required for setup, and the only step involved removing the back panel and placing two vents atop the carbon filters in the back. I’m not quite sure why Vitamix/FoodCycler doesn’t just complete this minor step for you during assembly, but luckily it’s not complicated.
When testing the FC-30, I used a month beyond when I was warned to change the filters, and I didn’t notice a dramatic increase in smell. The company suggests replacing the filters every three to four months, and at $24.95, that adds up to an annual recurring cost of $75 to $100. It’s worth noting that the smell is relatively minor if you are able to keep it away from your main living space.
Design: Attractive, streamlined unit
Like its predecessor, this product looks like a bread machine and is about the same size. The design is simple and modern, consistent with the Vitamix brand, and it feels well-made. There’s only one color theme, gray, but it’s come a long way from the original electric green-and-white unit that debuted in 2011 as part of a crowdfunding campaign for FoodCycler. The changes from the FC-30 are extremely subtle.
The unit is small enough to store in a cabinet, but it’s certainly not tiny. The bucket inside is much smaller than the total appliance dimensions and holds 1 to 2 quarts of food waste (depending on how densely packed the waste is). My household of two cooks at home with fresh produce frequently, and we found we filled the unit and ran it about three times a week. Much more if we had a group over for dinner and cooked a greater volume.
The lid twists from locked to unlocked easily and lifts out, revealing the bucket, which also lifts out via a fold-down steel handle. The fit on the lid seems improved from the FC-30 but that could be anecdotal to the units I tested.
The promise of the FC-50 is primarily the ability to reduce one’s waste footprint, and this unit does a remarkable job of that.
The one major design change from the previous model is the addition of a separate carbon-filtered lid so you can keep the bucket alone handy for collecting scraps while keeping smells inside. This is a nice thought, but in my kitchen, I generally filled the bucket fast enough that smells really weren’t a problem when stashed under the kitchen sink. The aromas that most people complain about from indoor compost buckets generally arise from anaerobic processes in food waste left for a week or longer.
Placement took a bit more planning than I anticipated since it requires a 110v outlet. Since it is a waste-processing appliance and not something I wanted to keep next to, say, my stand mixer, I decided to start it under the sink. Although I have an outlet available under my sink, and it felt like a natural location, I found the space a little small for getting in and out of the unit with the bucket and moved it onto a shelf in my laundry area.
The controls are streamlined and simple. A single power button is used to power the unit on as well as to initiate the process, making things about as foolproof as it gets.
Process: Dehydrates and grinds to reduce food waste
The burning question for me (and likely you if you’re reading this) was “What kind of compost is going to come out of this thing?” First, a definitional aside: This unit doesn’t actually compost, and the company seems to be very careful about stepping around that word, which refers to a process of decomposition led by bacteria.
The FoodCycler actually uses a two-phase process that, in the company’s words, “reduces food waste volume by 85 to 93 percent through a dehydration and grinding process.” What this process produces out of a quart or so of food waste usually looks more like a handful of shredded leaf litter than the black dirt-like product produced through traditional composting.
As I discovered, the process for getting there is pretty opaque. When you lock the lid on your bucket full of food scraps and start the sequence, your only clue to what’s going on inside is the LED readout, which indicates one of three steps occurring: drying, grinding, or cooling.
When drying, the unit gets pretty warm but not hot, and when grinding, you can hear the occasional creak of the grinder on some items, but overall the operation is very quiet and inconspicuous. Cooling is really just a passive waiting period that ensures it’s safe to open the appliance. The process is long: My average runtime was about six hours, but it isn’t something you notice, and some of that time is actually just the passive cooling.
The company says the 500-watt unit draws very little power, using less electricity than a small microwave oven, which is good since it could be running constantly in a larger household. I estimated that the power draw for the amount I used the unit would cost me just over $3 per month on my electricity bill.
Any kind of composting has a list of prohibited items. Meats and meal scraps can attract pests in an outdoor composter, for example. The FoodCycler’s prohibited list is relatively small and includes pineapple leaves, beef bones, and nutshells. However, meat, food scraps, and even fish and chicken bones can be broken down in the grinder.
Note that the machine is intended for organic material but that a small amount of biodegradable material, such as paper napkins, won't do any harm. Just cut into smaller pieces first, and never add any compostable plastics.
Performance: Quiet, effective operation
For my home high in the Rockies, there are about eight months of the year where it’s difficult to compost effectively outside. In the snowy winter months, I can either put food waste in the trash or store it outside in bins where it freezes immediately and piles up quickly. Reducing that same food waste in the FoodCycler to a tenth of its size made storing the finished product until garden season a much more realistic prospect.
It’s unclear if the “dehydrated food waste” produced by the FoodCycler is as effective a soil amendment as traditional compost, though it seems unlikely since the short process doesn’t break down the waste as completely as the slower traditional composting process, and the manufacturer recommends aging for weeks before using in the garden.
When I tested the FC-30 last winter, I saved the FoodCycler waste, and then in spring took it to my outdoor compost bin and mixed it with leaves and other garden waste to produce a more traditional soil-like compost. Without a controlled study, it’s hard to say if the FoodCycler helped or hurt my finished compost, but anecdotally I was glad to be rid of things like avocado pits, citrus halves, and corn husks that traditionally might not break down in my composting process, but did thanks to the grinding and drying step in the FoodCycler.
The FoodCycler reduces the smell and mess to near-zero, and that alone made me love this unit.
The manufacturer recommends at least aging the finished “fertilizer,” as Vitamix/FoodCycler labels it, for at least a few weeks to let it continue the breakdown process a la traditional compost. They recommend adding it in a 10 to one ratio, 10 parts plant waste to one part finished foodilizer, which is not hard to achieve given how little volume the finished foodilizer takes up.
Some online reviewers complained of the finished foodilizer molding in storage. I didn’t experience this in my dry climate, but I could see it basically rehydrating and molding in a more humid environment. For this reason, FoodCycler recommends storing bulk waste in an “open-air container in a cool, dry space.” I kept mine in a bin outdoors since it was winter, and I’d need to wait for spring to add it to my composting operation.
The potential shortcomings of the finished product for this unit aren’t a deal-breaker for me, even as much as I value compost in my garden. The promise of the FC-50 is primarily the ability to reduce one’s waste footprint, and this unit does a remarkable job of that.
Ease of Cleaning: Dishwasher or quick soak
Anyone who has collected food waste has had to deal with the occasional smell and sludge. The FoodCycler reduces the smell and mess to near-zero, and that alone made me love this unit.
The finished product is dry and thus can be stored more easily. In addition, the drying and grinding process leave the bucket inside the unit mostly clean, save for some particles of dried-up food waste after you empty it. The bucket is dishwasher-safe, but I just hand-washed it occasionally, basically just rinsing it after a few uses. For the times when the bucket had more persistent debris (usually when sugary fruit dried to a hard crust during heating), I just soaked the bucket in the water, and the crust loosened. The rest of the unit needs to be hand-washed, but I found that it didn’t get very dirty and was easy to maintain.
This was a stark contrast to my normal indoor compost collection bucket, which regularly has to be deep-cleaned to remove stuck-on onion skins and remove the thick layer of coffee grounds, sludge, or whatever would accumulate at the bottom.
Not only does this unit automate the process somewhat, but the drying aspect also makes it a much cleaner and odorless process by removing moisture from the equation.
Price: Reducing your footprint isn’t cheap
The biggest drawback to this unit is the cost, both upfront and recurring. You’ll have to shell out around $400 for the unit and another $75 annually to keep the filters fresh. That’s not a small sum for lower-income households, but clearly, this is a green luxury item designed for folks who can afford to spend money on their ecological footprint.
For households on a budget that want to reduce waste and produce compost, there are plenty of non-automated indoor compost collectors if you have space outdoors to then collect and compost it. If you live in a rural area and have the space to keep your distance from the odor and mess, you can cheaply compost without this appliance, though as in my case, long winters make a strong case for the FC-50 as a way to reduce food waste volume when you can’t practically pile it up outside.
Vitamix FoodCycler FC-50 vs. FoodCycler FC-30
FoodCycler FC-30: Vitamix also sells this unit’s predecessor, which is nearly the same unit and costs around $350. If cost is a concern, you don’t lose much by going with the earlier model. What you do lose is the separate bucket lid for collection and, perhaps most significantly, the beefed-up product warranty on the newer unit. While my testing of either unit didn’t reveal any red flags that would make me question its durability, the FC-50 comes with a full three-year warranty backed by Vitamix customer service, while the legacy FC-30 unit only gets one year.
Get it if you're serious about waste (or gardening).
The Vitamix FoodCycler FC-50 is a one-of-a-kind appliance that helps you reduce your waste footprint and is great for collecting food waste for your composting during the winter months. While spending hundreds of dollars to reduce your waste footprint may seem steep, those who know they'll benefit from this machine won't hesitate about the cost.
- Product Name FoodCycler FC-50
- Product Brand Vitamix
- Price $400
- Weight 27 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 11 x 14 x 12.6 in.
- Color Gray
- Power Rating 500W