Vitamix FoodCycler FC-50 Countertop Composter

For the past couple of months a $400 Vitamix FoodCycler FC-50 has transformed mounds of food waste that would have been discarded into the trash or garbage disposal into compost that looks like dirt, or pre-dirt.

Already a long-standing Vitamix blender fan, I was offered the opportunity to have a crack at this gadget with no strings attached. I am free to call it as I see it, as always. Composting is new to me. It’s good for the environment. I decided to accept the offer and so it began.

The newly created dirt can be added as a soil amendment to help fertilize potted plants indoors and outside, as well as to the soil around trees, in vegetable gardens and to prep for more planting areas outside. To be clear, this compost is not a replacement for traditional fertilizer. Rather, it is an amendment to be added along with the needs provided by other plant-specific fertilizing products.

Above all, the purpose is to reduce the volume of food waste that finds its way to landfill. If the compost finds its way to your garden, amending the soil, so much the better.

Nature or nurture

Instead of waiting weeks or months for nature to do the job by traditional methods outside, the Vitamix FoodCycler FC-50 does the job speedily, nurturing along small batch after small batch into compost that is a fraction of its original volume. The process is completed in only about three to four hours in my experience, though it can take as long as eight hours.

Display lights atop the unit cycle through Drying, Grinding and Cooling. Note the Change Filter indicator, as well.

I am thrilled with the FC-50, easily, happily recommending it to you, listening as it hums along on the kitchen counter cycling through buckets of food waste in the background as I compose this review.

CLICK to see my Vitamix FoodCycler FC-50 in action

Having tested other blender brands, I am accustomed to the quality, outstanding performance and value, the lifetime investment represented by the Vitamix brand. This heritage is evident in the excellent build quality of the FC-50. Solid!

I know it may be a tough sell to wrap one’s head around the initial cost for what can be done for possible less cost and through natural means over time in the back yard. Stay with me, though, won’t you?

Traditional composting – not for me

Composting had not appealed to me because of what I observed in friends’ composting efforts; containers full of food waste, gardening scraps and grass clippings requiring regular attention and a considerable outdoor space dedicated to the effort. NOT FOR ME!

This is different

This is for food waste only and it lives indoors on the kitchen counter, never put away, though it can be stored between uses anywhere and staged for use almost anywhere indoors where there is an electrical outlet. It’s a bit hefty. Putting it away or moving it with any regularity would get old, dissuading the user from adopting this countertop appliance and integrating it into a daily routine.

I decided that my FC-50 would be best purposed for the daily coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, eggshells, and some uneaten daily food scraps in small doses. I am following the recommendations in the comprehensive manual accompanying the FC-50. I suggest you do, too.

READ, STUDY THE MANUAL, REPEAT

This is NOT a product anyone is best advised to use without study and understanding of what it does, how it does what it does, its limitations (yes, limitations), what is OK and NOT OK to process and, just as important, what to do with the output.

Make no mistake, the FC-50 is a sophisticated machine, the components and technology of which are masked inside a consumer-friendly shell. Brilliant!

Carefully, deliberately and with a concentration and focus as if studying for finals, READ THE ENTIRE MANUAL FROM COVER TO COVER, OVERLOOKING NOTHING! By this attention to detail, users will have the best opportunity for success. The rules are not always intuitive. Got that?

Rules of the road

Here are a few of the most important points I have identified from the manual, linked HERE for your reading and studying pleasure.

Random excerpts are included, with some text I have changed to bold to draw your attention. Redundancy in the manual is deliberate.

DO NOT incorporate any recycled food compound byproduct from your FoodCycler that contains animal protein (e.g., chicken bones, fish bones, etc.) into your soil.

The bucket has a thin, indented fill line located on the inside wall of the bucket. DO NOT add food waste above this line.

DO NOT pack down food waste to keep it beneath the fill-line once full. Overloading the bucket might cause a jam.

Always ensure that no food waste falls outside of the bucket and into the unit. You should remove the bucket from the unit prior to adding food waste to the bucket.

DO NOT place items that are larger than the size of a human palm inside the bucket. Larger items should be cut down to smaller sizes so that they can be more easily processed without placing undue stress on the system.

DO NOT cycle large bones (such as pork or beef bones), pits, candy, gum, nuts or hard shells: these materials may cause serious damage to the bucket, and/or cause a motor overload.

DO NOT add oil, flammable materials or compounds, or water to the FoodCycler.

Bucket – removable. The bucket is designed to fully grind and process your food waste.

Note: If the bucket coating fades or chips, this is not a defect. This cosmetic damage is a result of a hard material scraping along the bucket coating during a cycle, but it will not affect the function of the unit.

Carbon filters – the filters wick away any and all odors during processing.

Foodilizer tablets – (sold separately) dissolvable soil probiotic that adds beneficial bacteria into soil mixed with recycled food compound from the FC-50. (NOTE – – I did not purchase these; saw no need at this time.)

You can add food waste to the bucket throughout the day, until the bucket is full. Do NOT fill the bucket above the max fill line.

To ensure optimal food waste breakdown, mix food waste together, with heavier foods interspersed with lighter, dryer foods.

Avoid high concentrations of the following foods (the dense, starchy and/or moisture-rich composition of these foods make them difficult to process in large quantities.):

»  starches (bread, cake, rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, stuffing)

»  citrus fruit rinds

»  condiments, dressings, sauces & soups

»  nut butters

»  jam, jellies, marmalades

»  high sugar fruits (grapes, cherries, melon, oranges, bananas, etc)

DO NOT cycle large bones (such as pork or beef bones),

pits, candy, gum, nuts or hard shells: these materials may cause serious damage to the bucket, and/or cause a motor overload.

DO NOT add oil, flammable materials or compounds, or water to the FoodCycler.

When the bucket is not in use and you are adding food waste, use the collection lid to reduce the amount of off- putting smells.

What to do with Recycled Food Compound

DO NOT consume or ingest recycled food compound or any food waste that has been placed into the bucket.

Using recycled food compound (RFC) as soil fertilizer:

DO NOT incorporate any RFC by-product that contains animal protein (e.g., chicken bones, fish bones, etc.) into your soil.

In most cases, and depending on your existing soil makeup, using the RFC as a soil amendment will incorporate all necessary nutrients to promote plant growth. Delaying planting by 1-4 weeks after the application of RFC to soil allows for the breakdown of the RFC, which makes more nutrients available for uptake by growing plants. Always be mindful of the sodium content of food waste being incorporated into the RFC that will serve as a soil amendment. Food with too high of concentration of sodium (like animal protein) could have a detrimental effect on the growth of plants and Vitamix recommends that you DO NOT incorporate any RFC into your soil that contains animal protein. Vitamix recommends that you add RFC to your soil in a ratio of 11 parts soil to 1 part RFC by volume (11:1).

If you choose not to use your food waste as a fertilizer, follow your local codes to dispose in your trash collection.

3-YEAR FULL WARRANTY – Read about it in the manual!!

 

Now that you are aware of just some of the operational rules and appropriate use of the output, I hope you are convinced of the absolute necessity to study the manual as prescribed above. Keep it handy for ready reference. One more thing about the manual – READ IT A FEW TIMES and be sure you have a comfortable working understanding even BEFORE first use. Ramp up your experience with different food waste.

My takeaways from the manual

Skip the animal protein altogether. No condiments. No bones. No citrus peels. YES to avocado skin, but never the pit. DO NOT overload each bucketful. Patience! When in doubt, consult the manual OR leave it out. Learn about the mix ratios as specified in the manual before using your newly created dirt in the garden or adding it to indoor potted plants. If you have pets, be mindful of what could be harmful to them in this process. Again, when in doubt, leave it out.

Care

Care is effortless-adjacent. Wipe the outside with a damp cloth. DO NOT IMMERSE in water. Be careful to avoid getting pre- or post-processed food waste in the mechanism below and around where the bucket sits. I use a vacuum to remove errant coffee grounds that seem to find a way onto the rim beyond the bucket. I also use the vacuum’s hose to draw out anything that can be removed, yet unseen from the works under the bucket. Occasionally disconnect from power and carefully upend the unit over a trash can. BE CAREFUL! It’s not a lightweight. Give it a shake, but be gentle in your efforts to dump what may have fallen into the mechanism and that will not come out by vacuuming.

Wipe the plastic lid that goes in place while the unit is at work. Feel free to wipe out the bucket’s interior, wash by hand or place the bucket in a dishwasher. This is NOT needed or essential under most circumstances. If it’s simply showing dirt, it’s fine to leave it alone. It’s going to get dirty after each use.

DO use plastic or wood cooking tools to dislodge any stubborn or stuck-on materials after processing. If needed and in the event of stuck-on post-processing sludge in the bucket bottom, let the bucket sit in the sink with hot, soapy water for a few hours to loosen the material. That ought to do the trick, with an assist from those wooden or plastic kitchen tools. I use disposable chopsticks when needed to dislodge gunk, though as our experience grows, we are learning what works and what to avoid being placed in the bucket for processing. The likely offender in my case? Citrus fruit peels. These items are no longer composted here.

 

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MY experience

There have been no malodorous emissions of any kind from our food waste, including garlic scraps. The filter is working! Let me explain. Notice the cover propped atop the bucket as it rests on the kitchen counter?

As the bucket is filled with scraps until it reaches the max fill line, this cap has its own filter, a removable, replaceable, non-serviceable polyester pad coated with liquid carbon. Its purpose is to prevent odors from escaping the bucket until it is full enough for processing. When odors escape, users will know it is time for filter replacement. A set of three is listed as “Coming Soon!” on the Vitamix website. This is sure to change.

Once again, I decided to do some research, finding that these 6-inch diameter filters are somewhat ubiquitous. I found a 12-pack of right-sized round and similar filters for just $15 on Amazon, with Prime Delivery. If they are determined to be slightly large, they can be easily trimmed with scissors for best fit.

The sweet sound of countertop composting

Sometimes there have been strange sounds, almost as if moaning or groaning, but nothing of concern because we expect there to be strange and unfamiliar sounds. Most of the time, it’s just a kind of background “white noise” that can be heard.

The underside of the bucket shows signs of wear to the black finish. A nick or two has been observed in the bucket interior’s porcelain finish. Our new dirt looks like we use a lot of coffee, because we do! Corn silk and husks and corn cobs devoid of kernels after they have been enjoyed grind with little effort. We can tell when the cob pieces are being processed because the unit emits its groaning sound, though there have been no overheat warnings. Peelings from potatoes, carrots, jicama, cucumbers, beets, etc. go in, along with lettuce and other salad scraps that come out completely processed into compost. Hard stems and seeds from colorful bell peppers, check. Only a very few banana peels have made their way into the bucket. Apple cores have occasionally been composted without issue. Selected food scraps after meals have gone in and have been processed effortlessly. On one occasion when several scraps of citrus peels were composted there was what looked like a thick and sticky mess at the bottom of the bucket. I saw from firsthand experience that this is NOT a good idea! A different mess was created when the preponderance of scraps in one bucketful was carrot peels. The result was hardened crystallized, chunky bits. My advice – don’t do that! Stick with safer scraps that offer as much of a mixture of sources as is convenient.

What to do with all that compost?

With several zip-sealed bags of compost staged after-the-fact, now what?

Clearly, the bags are not a long-term solution. We hadn’t thought about that. Our solution was the purchase of a wheeled Rubbermaid Roughneck 45-gallon trash can from our nearby Home Depot for about $30.

Wheeled because it’s easier to move from where it will be stored to various places where the compost will be distributed. The wheels also make it easy to roll into the house if needed and the size is not too small nor as large as the trash bins provided by the local waste management company. Its lid provides a seal good enough so to avoid easy opening by vermin and the can is tall enough to be undisturbed by all but the tallest, most gregarious dogs of which there are none here.

How to get it from the storage container to where it is needed is another mini-concern I investigated, thinking I wanted something as small and lightweight as possible, as well as something easy to get down into the can. Once the can is at a higher level, a shovel will work, but when the level is lower, a shovel is at the wrong angle of attack to allow a full spade’s worth to be brought out without a high risk of falloff. Search for “plastic gutter scoop” and “3-quart plastic scoop.” You’ll find a good selection, with best prices NOT through Amazon.

The lid’s positive snap-shut seal should prevent rain from entering, not that we have much rain here in SoCal, but, still, one cannot be too careful! If you live where there is something we call weather around these parts, be guided accordingly in your choice of how you manage compost storage.

Alternately, there is not a thing wrong with simply throwing the compost into the trash. It has still performed the duty of significant reduction of food waste volume.

I suspect we will eventually spread the result of Vitamix FC-50’s efforts in outdoor plant containers and mix it with dirt around the base of trees. There may be vegetable gardening in the future to provide another use for the compost produced. There are no indoor plants here.

The filters

When the device signals the need for filter replacement, I will be faced with a decision. These filters are for odor control. The signal for their replacement is generated by time of use and not because there is a sniffer sampling the air and recognizing a stench. If the timer signals the need for replacement but the sniff test tells us the filters are still fine, I can perform a simple button press-and-hold indicator reset procedure and move on.

When it is legitimately time for this maintenance, another choice is ahead. I can buy from where, at this time, prices are best, directly from the Vitamix Website where a pair is just $25. I cannot say for how long the current 20% off code SAVE20 will be available. With shipping (to my location) and tax, the final tally is $41.66. Amazon sells “Food Cycler Replacement Filter, 2 Count” for $50, NOT with speedy Prime, but with free shipping.

OR, there may be another option I have yet to fully investigate. My reading indicates the ingredient inside the cannisters is activated charcoal in the form of pellets. I am not sure of their composition, but I suspect they are of common virgin bituminous coal or from burnt coconut shells. If adventurous, I can carefully attempt to pry off the filter caps on either the top or bottom, pour out the spent pellets and replace them, then snap the caps back in place. Searching just now for activated charcoal pellets resulted in several choices at costs far less than replacement of the complete, self-contained filters. This is all speculative at this point because the need has not presented itself, but rest assured I will check it out when the time comes. First, I will remove and inspect the original filters for my chances at successfully removing the covers, either top or bottom. If it appears that it’s going to work, I will try to remove and replace.

If this proves workable, back on will go the covers while I order the pellets. If not, well, I’ll have to buy a complete filter pair. This is my Plan B!

Whatever the case, be sure to replace BOTH filters or the contents of BOTH filters at the same time.

Finally

Be sure to read the Vitamix three-year warranty as detailed in the user manual linked above.

If you’ve decided to give indoor countertop composting a go with a Vitamix FoodCycler FC-50, here is my Amazon link with the same current price of $400 as manufacturer-direct, with free Prime shipping.

Happy composting.