The government is expanding its meat testing protocol, a move that will hasten recalls and help authorities identify more foodborne illnesses.

The meat industry has been required for 17 years to test for the common O157:H7 strain of the E. coli pathogen. Now it will test for six more. These other strains of E. coli have increasingly been found in food in recent years, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says other strains cause an estimated 110,000 illnesses annually.

Food safety advocates and meat industry representatives briefed on the decision say the meat companies will begin testing for six additional strains of E. coli in beef trimmings — parts of the cow that end up in ground beef — in March and may later expand to other meats.

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