This article is the first in a two-part series discussing and illustrating the application of statistical process control (SPC) to processes often examined by hospital epidemiologists. The basic philosophical and theoretical foundations of statistical quality control and their relation to epidemiology are emphasized in order to expand mutual understanding and cross-fertilization between these two disciplines. Part I provides an overview of quality engineering and SPC, illustrates common types of control charts, and provides references for further information or statistical formulae. Part II discusses statistical properties of control charts, issues of chart design and optimal control limit widths, alternate possible SPC approaches to infection control, some common misunderstandings, and more advanced issues. The focus of both articles is mostly non-mathematical, emphasizing important concepts and practical examples rather than academic theory and exhaustive calculations.