An overview of 21 CFR Part 820

Wendy Levine
September 23, 2022
An overview of 21 CFR Part 820

What is 21 CFR Part 820?

21 CFR 820 is the FDA federal regulation that pertains to quality systems for medical device manufacturers, and it is part of the agency’s set of Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) for industry. Also referred to as the FDA’s quality system regulation (QSR), the regulation defines design controls and quality processes at all stages of device development in order to ensure that all medical devices marketed in the United States are safe and effective.

21 CFR 820 consists of 15 subparts, which define quality system requirements for each stage and function within the medical device manufacturing process. We define each subpart below.

Federal regulations are organized as Title → Chapter → Subchapter → Part, which means that 21 CFR 820 is short-hand for:

21 CFR Part 820

21 CFR 820 vs ISO 13485

ISO 13485 is the de facto international quality system standard for medical device manufacturers, but this is not currently the standard in the United States. While Part 820 and ISO 13485 are structured differently, they have no conflicting requirements. Therefore, companies that are marketing medical devices in the U.S. and in other markets will need to comply with both ISO 13485 and the FDA’s QSR, as defined in 21 CFR 820. 

However, the FDA is moving towards harmonizing these standards, and on February 23, 2022 issued a proposed rule to amend the QSR to align more closely with the international consensus standard for Quality Management Systems, primarily by incorporating reference to the ISO 13485 standard. The FDA has published FAQ’s about the proposed rule.

21 CFR Part 820 Requirements

Part 820: General Controls (subpart A)

The General Controls subpart contains three sections providing general information about the regulation, including the scope and applicability along with key definitions.


The regulation defines current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) requirements governing the methods, facilities, and controls used for the “design, manufacture, packaging, labeling, storage, installation, and servicing of all finished devices intended for human use." Specifically, this subpart defines:

  • Applicability:

The requirements of this regulation are intended to ensure the safety and efficacy of all finished medical devices intended for human use that are manufactured in or imported into the United States. Manufacturers that are involved in some, but not all, manufacturing operations should comply with those requirements that are applicable to the functions they are performing. 


  • This regulation does not apply to manufacturers of medical device components, but such manufacturers are encouraged to use this regulation as guidance.
  • Class I medical devices are exempt from the Design Controls defined in this regulation, except for those listed in § 820.30(a)(2)
  • Manufacturers of blood and blood components are not subject to this regulation but are subject to Biologics good manufacturing practices as defined in Subchapter F, Part 606 of the regulation.


This section of the regulation contains definitions for a number of terms used throughout the document. The following are the major definitions related to quality records:

  • Design history file (DHF): A compilation of records that describes the design history of a finished device.
  • Design input: The physical and performance requirements of a device that are used as a basis for device design.
  • Design output: The results of a design effort at each design phase and at the end of the total design effort. The finished design output is the basis for the device master record. The total finished design output consists of the device, its packaging and labeling, and the device master record.
  • Device history record (DHR): A compilation of records containing the production history of a finished device.
  • Device master record (DMR): A compilation of records containing the procedures and specifications for a finished device.

Quality System

The section of the regulation sets the basic requirement for a quality system by stating that “Each manufacturer shall establish and maintain a quality system that is appropriate for the specific medical device(s) designed or manufactured, and that meets the requirements of this part.” 

The term “appropriate” is used throughout this regulation and can be open to interpretation. A manufacturer, however, should assume that all requirements are appropriate and applicable except in cases where non-implementation of the requirement can be shown to have no effect on the product's specified requirements or ability to carry out necessary corrective actions.

Quality system requirements (subpart B)

This section of the regulation defines the overall responsibilities and the resources required for the management of the quality system.

Management responsibilities

Executive management is responsible for establishing a quality policy and ensuring adequate resources to effectively maintain and manage the quality system. In addition, management is responsible for establishing a specific quality plan, consisting of relevant practices, resources, activities, and procedures.

Quality audit

Periodic audits of the quality system are required to be conducted by personnel not directly responsible for the activities being audited. The dates and results of each audit need to be documented, along with the results of the audit. It is expected that corrective actions and, when necessary, reaudits, be performed for any identified noncompliances.


Manufacturers are responsible for assigning sufficient personnel with appropriate experience and training to perform all tasks required by the quality system plan.

Design controls (subpart C)

Manufacturers of all class II and class III medical devices, along with the specific class I devices listed in paragraph (a)(2) of this regulation, are required to establish design control procedures that ensure design requirements are met as specified. 

Design controls shall define:

  • Design and development planning - Plans that describe the design and development activities, and responsibilities for these activities and their implementation.
  • Design input - Procedures that ensure design requirements are appropriate and address the intended use of the device.
  • Design output - Procedures that document design output, including acceptance criteria, so that conformance to design input requirements can be adequately evaluated.
  • Design review - Formal and documented reviews of the ensign results that include participation from representatives of all.
  • Design verification - Procedures for verifying the device design that confirm that the design output meets the design input requirements.
  • Design validation - Procedures for validating the device design, ensuring that devices conform to defined user needs and intended uses, and including testing of production units under actual or simulated conditions.
  • Design transfer - Procedures to ensure that the device design is correctly translated into production specification.
  • Design changes - Procedures for identifying, documenting, validating, and managing the verification and approval process of all design changes before they are implemented.
  • Design history file - A design history file (DHF) is required for each type of device and should include or reference the records necessary to demonstrate that the design was developed in accordance with the approved design plan and device requirements.

Document controls (subpart D)

Medical device manufacturers are required to put in place document controls for all documents required in this regulation.

Document approval and distribution

One or more people must be assigned to review and approve documents prior to issuance. The approval must be documented, include a date and the signature of the approver, and be made available at all locations where applicable. Procedures must also be in place to ensure that obsolete documents are removed and/or prevented from being used.

Document changes

Similar to document approval procedures, changes to documents must be approved, reviewed, and documented. Records of all changes must be maintained.

Purchasing controls (subpart E)

To continue reading this Regulatory Brief, including a definition of the remaining subparts and a comparison of 21 CFR 820 to ISO 13485, please download the full brief.

Download the full brief

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