Bioreactors are often an integral part of dairy factory efforts to reduce the biological oxygen demand of their wastewater. In this study, infeed, mixed liquor and supernatant samples of an aerobic bioreactor used by a dairy factory in South-Eastern Australia were analyzed for nutrients and organic compounds using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and physicochemical analyses. Despite different concentrations of organic inputs into the bioreactor, nutrients and trace organic compounds were reduced significantly (i.e. average concentration of trace organic compounds: infeed = 1681 mu g/L: mixed liquor = 257 mu g/L; supernatant = 23 mu g/L). However, during one sampling period the bioreactor was adversely affected by the organic loading. Trace organic compounds in the samples were predominantly fatty acids associated with animal products. The analyses suggest that it is possible to trace a disruptive input (i.e. infeed with high organic carbon concentrations) into an aerobic bioreactor by measuring concentrations of fatty acids or ammonia. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.